Sea turtle nests break records on US beaches, but global warming threatens their survival

by Chloe Baker
sea turtle nesting trends

Throughout millennia, sea turtles have undertaken their arduous journey from the ocean to U.S. shores to lay eggs, and recent months have witnessed an unprecedented number of nests, particularly in Florida, despite looming threats from climate change.

In Florida, state records indicate over 133,840 loggerhead turtle nests, surpassing the 2016 record. Green turtles also set a new record, with more than 76,500 nests, exceeding the 2017 figure. Similar high nesting activities were observed in South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia, with Florida experiencing exceptional numbers, as noted by Justin Perrault, Vice President of Research at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.

This year, the Palm Beach County monitored by Perrault’s team broke a local record by 4,000 nests. A Loggerhead Sea Turtle hatchling’s journey to the Atlantic Ocean and a Loggerhead Sea Turtle’s nesting along the Atlantic Ocean underscore the successful nesting season. However, the bright outlook is shadowed by climate change impacts like increased sand temperatures leading to fewer male hatchlings, changes in ocean currents, and more severe storms destroying nests.

The seven sea turtle species—loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, and flatback—are all endangered or threatened. They lay eggs on summer nights, facing natural threats and man-made challenges. For instance, Hurricane Idalia in August devastated most of the 75 nests along a Florida Gulf Coast stretch.

Carly Oakley, Senior Turtle Conservation Biologist at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, noted the significant loss due to high tides and flooding. Female turtles’ three-year egg-laying cycle, necessary for energy recovery, is further complicated by climate change, which causes beach erosion, stronger storms, hotter temperatures, and altered ocean currents, lowering survival chances.

Oceana, an international conservation group, emphasizes the role of sand temperatures in determining the sex of sea turtles, with warmer conditions favoring females. Projections suggest a significant increase in sand temperatures globally by 2100. Mariana Fuentes from FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science found in a recent study that sea turtles might need to alter their nesting timing to adapt to environmental changes.

However, rapid climate change could outpace their evolutionary adaptation. Human infrastructures like seawalls, predators, disorientation by artificial lights, and dangers in the ocean pose additional threats to turtles. Michelle Pate, a biologist at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, points out that despite higher nest numbers, the survival of hatchlings remains critical.

Perrault warns that the current record numbers might not translate into future success, foreseeing potential declines in nesting in the coming decades. Cody Jackson, an AP video journalist, contributed to this report from Juno Beach, Florida.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about sea turtle nesting trends

How have sea turtle nesting patterns changed recently in the US?

Recent months have seen a record-breaking number of sea turtle nests in the US, particularly in Florida. This increase includes over 133,840 loggerhead turtle nests and more than 76,500 green turtle nests, exceeding previous records.

What are the main threats to sea turtle survival due to climate change?

Climate change poses several threats to sea turtles, including higher sand temperatures that skew sex ratios towards females, changes in ocean currents affecting their migration, and more severe storms that can destroy nests.

What are the current conservation statuses of sea turtle species?

All seven species of sea turtles—loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, and flatback—are considered either endangered or threatened, facing numerous natural and human-induced challenges.

How does climate change affect sea turtle sex determination?

Sand temperatures play a crucial role in determining the sex of sea turtles, with warmer temperatures generally producing more females. With climate change, these temperatures are expected to rise, potentially disrupting the balance of male and female populations.

What challenges do sea turtle hatchlings face in reaching adulthood?

Only about one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive to adulthood. They face numerous natural threats like predators on land and in the ocean, disruptions to nests, and challenges in reaching the water after hatching. Additionally, human activities such as coastal development and pollution add to their plight.

More about sea turtle nesting trends

  • Sea Turtles and Climate Change
  • Conservation Status of Sea Turtles
  • Sea Turtle Nesting Patterns
  • Impact of Climate Change on Wildlife
  • Sea Turtle Hatchling Survival Rates

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EcoWarrior November 24, 2023 - 12:06 pm

climate change is such a huge threat, we need to act now to save these incredible creatures, they’ve been around for millions of years…

TurtleFan November 25, 2023 - 4:17 am

This is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. The records are great, but those poor hatchlings facing so much danger is just sad. 🙁

MarineLover42 November 25, 2023 - 4:29 am

it’s amazing to see these numbers, but it’s worrying too, how long can they keep this up with all the climate issues?

Sandy Beaches November 25, 2023 - 4:39 am

Wow, didn’t know the sea turtles were doing so well in the US, that’s great news! but climate change sounds like a big problem for them…


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