Understanding the potential impacts of climate change on hawksbill turtle migration

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A female hawksbill returns to the sea after being fitted with a satellite tracking device.
© Grupo Jaragua/INTEC

WWF, as part of a collaborative project, is tracking hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean to discover secrets of the turtles' migratory patterns and how their journeys may be affected by climate change.
Throughout their adult lives, many female sea turtles move thousands of kilometers between feeding and nesting areas. Exactly how sea turtles navigate between these areas remains a mystery but it is thought that they may use a number of different guides to find their way. Some of these cues may be features of the ocean such as ocean currents and sea surface temperatures.

It is important to understand how these features affect sea turtle movements so that we can predict if migration patterns might change in the future with climate change. One of the manifestations of climate change is increasing sea surface temperatures, which have the potential to not only influence sea turtle distribution but also to alter sea surface currents. If sea turtles use these features in their trans-oceanic movements, changes could result in sea turtles using different foraging and nesting areas.

To try and answer some of these questions, WWF is involved in a multi-institutional project that is following the movements of 6 hawksbill turtles as they travel across the Caribbean from their nesting sites in the Dominican Republic. By fitting the turtles with satellite tags it is possible to track their journeys across the sea and see how their movements relate to sea surface temperature, currents and other oceanographic features.

Check out the turtles tagged this season and find out where they are going.

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