Turtles inwarming waters

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Surviving a sea-change

The oceans are warming and rising.
How will sea turtles cope with their changing world?

Discover how WWF is working to protect turtles
and how you can help.

1 Tracking turtles

Spying on turtles from space

Sea turtles often seem to be swimming against the tide. Already threatened by hunting, poaching, habit loss and pollution, these ancient mariners are now facing huge upheavals as their watery world heats up.

WWF researchers have been tracking turtles by satellite to discover how their age-old migrations might be affected by warmer seas. And the results have been eye opening. During summer in the Arabian Gulf, turtles leave their feeding grounds as the waters soar to 35°C or more. They head for cooler climes, only returning when the temperature drops.

These studies suggest that marine turtles in other parts of the world might be forced to change their habits. It’s impossible to know how they will cope. But thanks to satellite tracking, WWF biologists can pinpoint key areas in need of protection – both now and in the future. Vital information that will help to ensure the survival of these remarkable species.

Turtles are completely unaffected by the high tech transmitters

If we work together to protect turtles where they need it, we can save them for the future.

WWF conservationist Diego Amorocho

Diego Amorocho

Species Programme Manager, WWF Latin America/Caribbean

There are many ways we can help sea turtles adapt and thrive in a changing climate.

Marianne Fish

Marianne Fish

Marine and Coastal Adaptation Program Officer, WWF Latin America/Caribbean

The survival of turtles is a lifeline to other species in the delicate marine ecosystem.

Marina Antonopoulou

Marina Antonopoulou

Marine Programme Manager, EWS-WWF United Arab Emirates

  • The Norwegian Polar Institute is pioneering work in the use of geo-location ear tags that store a surprising amount of data on a chip set the size of a small coin- including temperature and light. That information may help them identify when bears go into dens.

    Before researchers can attach the transmitter, the turtle’s shell needs a good scrubbing to remove any algae.

  • Polar bear research isn’t all high-tech. Here, the researchers team up to weigh a polar bear the old-fashioned way – with scales and a sling. A female may weigh 150–250 kg, while a male could weigh up to 700 kg.

    And a rub down with sandpaper to ensure the adhesive sticks to the shell.

  • Camera traps are high-tech devices, some of which offer the ability to send live pictures through MMS or email.

    It takes teamwork to tag a turtle and the expertise of scientists from WWF and partners.

  • In order to set camera traps, WWF biologists walk through the field looking for signs of tigers.

    Marine epoxy is one way to glue the transmitter in place because it’s strong, water resistant and harmless.

  • Camera traps are high-tech devices, some of which offer the ability to send live pictures through MMS or email.

    Once the glue dries, the turtle can be released back into the ocean.

  • Camera traps are high-tech devices, some of which offer the ability to send live pictures through MMS or email.

    No more secrets: the turtle’s underwater travels can now be tracked.

2 Burning sand

What hotter beaches mean for hatchlings

Baby turtles face many predators during their birthday crawl from nest to sea. But climate change could result in even fewer hatchlings starting the trip. Or upset the natural balance with too many females being born.

Projected increases in temperature could bias hatchling sex ratios significantly towards females. A shortage of males could lower a population’s capacity to adapt and deal with climate change. If temperatures are extremely high, the implications may be much more serious, leading to high nest mortality in some places. Greater egg loss could lead to a decrease in population size, increasing the vulnerability of these species to extinction.

Our climate is changing fast - and sea turtles reproduce very slowly. But if we act quickly enough, we can help them to cope with their new environment. Actions like identifying new places to protect or providing natural shade on current nesting beaches to lower the temperature of the sand are just some of the many ways we can improve turtles chances of survival.

  • Night photo infrared light
  • Day night sensor
  • Menu Display
  • Motion sensor
Camera trap

WWF-Australia explains how climate change impacts nesting turtles.

  • The camera is attached to a collar placed on a polar bear's neck. The collar also sends a GPS signal, so it can be retrieved when it falls off.

    Climate change could make it even harder for hatchlings to survive and thrive

  • In Indonesia, this young Sumatran tiger was wandering around with its mother (not shown).

    Warming ocean temperatures could lead to decreased food suppy

  • WWF cameras record anything that passes by, not just tigers. In this case, a leopard peering into the camera.

    Changes in ocean currents can modify migrations paths

  • WWF cameras record anything that passes by, not just tigers. In this case, a leopard peering into the camera.

    Rising sea levels could flood critical turtle nesting sites, as could higher water tables due to more extreme rainfall

3 Providing a helping hand

Hatching a plan to save their nests

On beaches across the world, WWF biologists are working night and day to monitor sand and nest temperatures. Their data shows the changes that are underway and helps experts design the most effective solution.

If our research shows that a vital nesting site is primarily threatened by rising sea levels, we can work with local planners to give the beach – and the turtles – a chance. Leaving important areas undeveloped would give the beach the space to move landwards as the ocean inches upwards. So turtles would still be able find a dry patch of sand to lay their eggs.

Local research can have global benefits. In Mexico, we are working with partners to study the impact of climate change on some of the world’s most important hawksbill nesting sites. Key lessons are already making a difference in places as far away as Madagascar. Just one example of how WWF is using science to tailor solutions to help marine turtles survive and thrive.

Some impacts of climate change on turtles and possible solutions.

By protecting turtles we protect the marine environment. When sea turtles are healthy, so is the ecosystem we all depend on. If we lose turtles, the ocean will be lost and that will be the end of us.

Mike Baltzer

Aimée Leslie

Marine Turtle Manager, WWF International