Climate change is turning Florida’s sea turtles female. How long can these species survive? | Miami Herald

miamiherald | 8/12/2019 | Staff
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Climate change is turning Florida’s sea turtles female. How long can these species survive?


Dozen - Leatherback - Turtles - Tanks - Lines

Two dozen tiny leatherback turtles swam around in small tanks, attached by fishing lines to a system that kept them from hitting walls and hurting themselves. As an open-water species, leatherbacks don’t recognize barriers, so they are kept on leashes at Florida Atlantic University’s lab at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

It was lunchtime and professor Jeanette Wyneken was feeding them a concoction she perfected over the years: organic gelatin, fish oil, protein and vitamins, shaped into little squares. Leatherbacks are picky eaters, feeding mostly on jellyfish.

Wyneken - Baby - Turtles - Weeks - Size

Wyneken planned to fatten the baby turtles for a few weeks, until they are about the size of her palm and can undergo a laparoscopy to check their otherwise imperceptible gender — a process that requires inserting a tiny camera to view internal organs. Dozens of hatchlings will go through Wyneken’s lab this nesting season as part of her long-running turtle sex-ratio research in South Florida.

Yet even before any testing is done and the hatchlings are released back into the ocean, the scientist already knows there is a strong chance most of the turtles will be one gender: female.

Case - Reptiles - Sex - Sea - Turtles

As is the case with some reptiles, the sex of sea turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand where the eggs incubate. With climate change turning up the heat in South Florida, producing longer and hotter summers, sea turtle gender balance is being thrown way out of whack.

Wyneken’s research over the past 20 years shows that the number of males is decreasing across the three species she monitors, even as they lay eggs at different times during the March-October nesting season. Using the past decade as a reference, she said that seven...
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