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Climate change threatens turtles

Climate change could virtually wipe out eastern Pacific populations of leatherback turtles by the end of this century, research has shown.

Projections made by climate scientists indicate a decline in their numbers of 75%.

Leatherbacks, the largest sea turtles, are already critically endangered by threats such as egg poaching and fishing.

The new research suggests that climate change could be the last straw for turtle populations nesting on the western coasts of Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

According to the climate models, warmer, drier years are expected to become increasingly frequent in central America.

This is likely to result in high egg and hatchling mortality among the turtles, which lay their eggs on beaches.

Nesting populations could decline by 7% per decade, or 75% overall by 2100.

Professor James Spotila, from Drexel University in Philadelphia, US, who has spent 22 years studying leatherbacks at Playa Grande in Costa Rica, said: "In 1990 there were 1,500 turtles nesting on the Playa Grande beach. Now there are 30 to 40 nesting females per season."

Leatherback turtle births naturally ebb and flow from year to year in response to climate variations.

The research is reported in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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