Concerns about climate change are widespread, from rising sea levels to coral bleaching to melting ice sheets. But what about the birth of male turtles? As temperatures associated with greenhouse gas emissions rise, biological communities around the world are being affected in a huge number of complex and subtle ways, and sea turtles are no exception.
When a female sea turtle lays her eggs, she does not automatically fill her nest with half boys and half girls. The gender of the animal that finally hatches from the egg depends on the temperature at which the egg is incubated (a phenomenon called “temperature dependent sex”.) To make their nests, mama sea turtles dig holes in beaches around the world and bury their eggs beneath the sand. If the sand surrounding the eggs is above a certain temperature called the “pivitol temperature” (around 29 degrees Celsius, but it depends on the species), the eggs will become female turtles. Below this, male sea turtles will emerge from the eggs.
Lyndsey Tanabe, a fellow graduate student studying with me at KAUST, is tackling this issue in the Red Sea. For her master’s thesis research, she is traveling around the Red Sea and putting temperature sensors on coral reefs and beaches where turtles might lay their eggs. She is doing this to get a record of the temperatures that turtles and their eggs are exposed to, which will help her make a model of how many males or female turtles will be born in this region.
I got to help Lyndsey with some of her field work, and made a video explaining a bit about her research. Check it out here to get an idea of what scientists are doing to study and conserve sea turtles: