Sci-tech

Turtles turn female as Great Barrier Reef grows warmer

Turtles turn female as Great Barrier Reef grows warmer

A new scientific paper has warned the northern population, believed to be the largest in the world and consisting of more than 200,000 nesting females, could eventually drastically fall without males. "In sea turtles, the proportion of female hatchlings increases with the incubation temperature".

A recent global by the University of Exeter found that more than 1,000 marine turtles were dying after becoming entangled in rubbish every year, while another found that 90% of young green turtles had plastic waste in their gut.

Scientists say too many turtles have turned female because of rising sea temperatures in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

"This is extreme-like capital letters extreme, exclamation point extreme", Camryn Allen, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) endocrinology researcher and the study's co-author, told National Geographic. Just a few degrees can tip a delicate natural balance. In contrast, the southern region, where it is fairly colder, females accounted for only 65-69% of the population.

Sea turtles from warmer northern beaches leaned even more heavily female, with 86.8 per cent of adult turtles, 99.8 per cent of sub-adult turtles, and 99.1 per cent of juvenile turtles turning out to be female. Also, not only the higher temperatures affect the sex of the turtles but also increase mortality rates in turtle offspring.

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The temperature at which eggs incubate determines the sex of the eggs.

"These results suggest that increased sand temperatures affect the sex ratios of the (northern Great Barrier Reef) population such that virtually no male turtles are now being produced from these nesting beaches", the study said.

Scientists said: "Combining our results with temperature data show that the (warmer) northern GBR green turtle rookeries have been producing primarily females for more than two decades and that the complete feminisation of this population is possible in the near future". Now it seems that day has arrived for the much beloved green sea turtles, at least in the far north of Queensland.

For now, the important matter is to look into the current sex ratios in the adult breeding population, and what they might look like after some years from now when these young turtles grow up, Jansen stated.

"Australia must adopt ambitious climate change targets that will save the Reef and its unique creatures".


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