Climate Change Is Causing 99% of Australian Sea Turtles to Be Born Female

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 - 11:23AM
Weird Science
Earth
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 - 11:23AM
Climate Change Is Causing 99% of Australian Sea Turtles to Be Born Female
Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Here's a fun fact to bring out at parties: green sea turtle eggs hatch into males or females based on the temperature of their surroundings. That's so weird, sea turtles. In fact, it may turn out to be the key to their extinction.

 

Climate change isn't just affecting the polar ice caps and weather—it's slowly changing the temperature of the oceans.

 

Because green sea turtles, one of the most visible species living around the Great Barrier Reef, lay their eggs on beaches on the east coast of Australia, warmer temperatures can cause more females to be born than males. This has already started happening on one beach in the northern part of Australia's coast: almost 99% of green sea turtles have been born as females.



 

Though the northern beaches have been skewed toward producing females for the past few decades (around 87% of the sea turtles observed there were females), the jump to 99% may be a sign that the area has hit a dead end: according to the scientists behind the new research, "The complete feminization of this population is possible in the near future."

 

Select beaches in the southern parts of the Australian coast have also shown an increase in female populations, but nothing as severe as the northern areas yet. If the trend continues, however, green sea turtle populations may decline and whole generations may disappear. Because green sea turtles are one of the few animals that trim and regulate the growth of sea grass, this could have a big impact on ocean ecosystems:

 

"Sea grass beds are important because they provide breeding and developmental grounds for many species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without sea grass beds, many marine species humans harvest would be lost, as would the lower levels of the food chain."

 

More fun facts. The not-so-fun fact? If green sea turtles go extinct, we all lose.

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