Amid a Record Sea Turtle Nesting Season, a New Threat Emerges

Nov 8, 2023

To the delight of herpetologists and wildlife lovers, 2023 has been a record year for sea turtle nesting and births. Yet, a closer look at the tiny turtles scuttling their way into the surf reveals a worrying trend. Most of the newborn turtles are female.    

Experts trace this year’s nesting numbers to conservation measures that began decades ago. That's because most species of sea turtle take 20-30 years to begin laying eggs. Doing things like turtle tagging and protecting beaches has begun to pay off. They’ve allowed places along Florida’s Coast to see a 195% increase in green sea turtle nests this year. Other species have also had surges in the number of hatchlings born.    

The nesting boom may be good news in the short-term. Climate change has thrown a wrinkle into hopes that sea turtle numbers may continue to recover, though. That’s because a turtle’s sex is determined by the temperature at which the egg incubates. Cooler sand around a buried egg yields a male. Warmer temps result in a female hatchling. 

This summer, ocean (and beach) temperatures soared to record levels. Water temperatures remain high. That has led to an overwhelming number of female hatchlings. As many as 87-100% of all births observed have been female. That's according to Jeanette Wyneken. She's a biology professor at Florida Atlantic University. The hot temps also make it more difficult for tiny hatchlings to survive.     

Photo from Unsplash courtesy of Josué Soto.

Reflect: What do you think we can do to help protect sea turtles and ensure they have a healthy and diverse population in the future?

What idea is highlighted throughout the story? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. the importance of preserving marine ecosystems
b. the influence of tourism on sea turtle populations
c. the impact of environmental factors on sea turtle survival
d. the significance of beach conservation efforts
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