Climate change will affect every aspect of our lives, including weather (storms, droughts), agriculture (changes in food supply), health (tropical diseases moving northward), availability of fresh water, erosion of coastlines, and so on. Share your concerns with policy-makers, and do your part by reducing your energy use. Walk or bike instead of driving, turn off lights and electrical equipment when not in use, fly as little as possible, and recycle as much as you can! The time to act is now, and everyone has a role to play in caring for our planet during this important time in human history.
Sea turtles rely on a variety of habitats as they mature, including sandy beaches, nearshore foraging grounds (e.g., coral reefs, seagrass), and oceanic frontal systems and gyres. In addition to the loss and degradation of these habitats to coastal development, shipping and fisheries, recreation and pollution, etc., climate change will bring new survival challenges. The turtles’ dependence on multiple, inter-linked habitats makes them ideal flagship species for examining the impacts of climate change on coastal and marine ecosystems.
Aspects of climate change could affect sea turtles in numerous ways. For example, temperature influences many aspects of marine turtle life behavior and distribution, from adult distribution to sex ratios of hatchlings. Extreme weather events, sea-level rise and ocean acidification all have the potential to change foraging and nesting grounds. In the past, abundant marine turtle populations probably adapted well to climatic change both behaviorally and genetically through natural selection. Today, populations of these species are severely depleted, human pressures constrain their recovery, and the pace of environmental change is unprecedented.
Share your concerns with policy-makers! The time to act is now, and everyone has a role to play in caring for our planet during this important time in human history. There are several communication and outreach tools available to you, and links are provided under “Outreach Tools” below. We will also do our best to keep you abreast of academic publications (see “References”, below) related to the science of sea turtles and climate change.
If you manage a sea turtle research or conservation project, monitor changes (e.g., width, slope) in your nesting beaches. Through regular coastal monitoring, information is produced that can inform policy and can be used in evaluating the short and long term benefits (or consequences) of management action taken to enhance the resilience of coastal habitats to climate change. To guide your efforts, step-by-step handbooks are available (see left sidebar).
Given the uncertainty about sea turtles’ capacity to respond in a timely fashion to the unprecedented changes currently underway, the Adaptation to Climate Change for Marine Turtles (ACT) project of the World Wildlife Fund recommends a precautionary approach that implements measures designed to increase the resilience of sea turtles and their habitats. Among their recommendations are the following:
- Integrate management of coastal and marine resources
- Establish and enforce construction setback regulations
- Incorporate climate change into land use planning
- Prevent removal of native vegetation (and replant where it has already been removed) in order to create shade and stabilize beaches
- Ensure that new and current coastal development is “turtle-friendly”
- Monitor sand/nest temperatures, and document nest success and hatchling sex ratios
- Measure beach profiles and beach dynamics for modeling future impacts of sea-level rise and storm surge
- Identify nesting areas that may be used in the future
- Control land-based activity to reduce pollution and sedimentation on coral reefs
- Identify and prioritize protection of key marine turtle foraging sites and areas of high coral/sponge cover by ensuring their inclusion in a network of protected areas
Want to Know More?
CARIBSAVE, Modelling the Transformational Impacts and Cost of Sea Level Rise in the Caribbean
Cuban Meteorological Institute (INSMET), Caribbean Climate Change Scenarios
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