Turtle nests are at risk from sea level rise

Turtle breeding grounds around the world are at risk of flooding from sea level rise, according to new research published in Scientific Reports.

Sea turtles go back to the beach they’re born on to breed.

But the study has found that seven sea turtle nesting sites around the world, belonging to five different species, are at serious risk of going underwater with sea level rise.

Leatherback sea turtle on beach
A leatherback sea turtle at Mondonguillo-Laguna Urpiano at Costa Rica. Credit: Marga Rivas

The international team of researchers used computer modelling to see how the seven different rookeries would fare under different Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warming scenarios.

They looked at 2,835 nests in total, covering breeding grounds for Mondonguillo Beach (Costa Rica), Guanahacabibes Peninsula (Cuba), Saona Island (Dominican Republic), the coast of Ecuador, Raine Island (Australia), St George Island (US) and Sint Eustatius (Caribbean Netherlands).

These grounds were used by the leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley, and green sea turtle species.

Leatherback turtle being photographed by person
A leatherback sea turtle at Mondonguillo-Laguna Urpiano at Costa Rica. Credit: Marga Rivas

The researchers found that even with moderate emissions (roughly the most likely scenario based on current policies, according to Climate Action Tracker), 100% of the nests at four of the locations (Raine Island, Saona Island, St George Island and Mondonguillo beach) were vulnerable to flooding by 2050.

Leatherback turtles were most vulnerable, because they tend to nest in open areas closer to the water.

Raine Island, off the coast of Queensland, hosts the largest green turtle rookery in the world. All of its nests are vulnerable to flooding within a few decades.

Group of people looking at beach berm in the night
A clutch of eggs washed into a beach berm by sea level rise. Credit: Marga Rivas

In their paper, the researchers point out that there are already conservation efforts underway at Raine Island to make the turtle population more resilient, and they recommend copying these efforts elsewhere.

“Our study predicts massive flooding at important rookeries in Australia, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and the USA,” conclude the authors in their paper.

“These critical areas will face the effects of sea-level rise in the next few decades, meaning that it is now urgent to reduce anthropogenic emissions to safeguard the future of sea turtle populations against climate change and associated sea level rise.”

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