Climate change threatens largest sea turtles
Deaths of turtle eggs and hatchlings in nests buried at hotter, drier beaches are the leading projected cause of the potential climate-related decline, according to a new study by Drexel and Princeton Universities, other institutions and official agencies.
Leatherbacks are among the most critically endangered due to a combination of historical and ongoing threats including egg poaching at nesting beaches and juvenile and adult turtles being caught in fishing operations, the journal Nature Climate Change reports. The new research on climate dynamics suggests that climate change could impede this creature's ability to recover. If actual climate patterns follow projections in the study, the eastern Pacific leatherback turtles will decline by 75 percent in numbers by the year 2100, said a university statement.
"We used three models of this leatherback population to construct a climate-forced population dynamics model," said the study's lead author Vincent Saba, a research fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service's Northeast Fisheries Science Centre, visiting research collaborator at Princeton University, and a Drexel University alumnus.
"Two parts were based on the population's observed sensitivity to the nesting beach climate and one part was based on its sensitivity to the ocean climate," added Saba. Leatherback turtle births naturally ebb and flow from year to year in response to climate variations, with more hatchlings, and rare pulses of male hatchlings, entering the eastern Pacific Ocean in cooler, rainier years.