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Surviving a sea-change

The oceans are warming and rising. How will sea turtles cope with their changing world ? Discover how WWF is working to protect turtles and how you can help.


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© Oliver Kerr / EWF-WWF

Spying on turtles from space

Sea turtles often seem to be swimming against the tide. Already threatened by hunting, poaching, habit loss and pollution, these ancient mariners are now facing huge upheavals as their watery world heats up.

WWF researchers have been tracking turtles by satellite to discover how their age-old migrations might be affected by warmer seas. And the results have been eye opening. During summer in the Arabian Gulf, turtles leave their feeding grounds as the waters soar to 35°C or more. They head for cooler climes, only returning when the temperature drops.

These studies suggest that marine turtles in other parts of the world might be forced to change their habits. It’s impossible to know how they will cope. But thanks to satellite tracking, WWF biologists can pinpoint key areas in need of protection – both now and in the future. Vital information that will help to ensure the survival of these remarkable species.


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Arctic fox - WWF
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Ole Joergen Liodden / WWF

Burning sand : what hotter beaches mean for hatchlings

Baby turtles face many predators during their birthday crawl from nest to sea. But climate change could result in even fewer hatchlings starting the trip. Or upset the natural balance with too many females being born.

Projected increases in temperature could bias hatchling sex ratios significantly towards females. A shortage of males could lower a population’s capacity to adapt and deal with climate change. If temperatures are extremely high, the implications may be much more serious, leading to high nest mortality in some places. Greater egg loss could lead to a decrease in population size, increasing the vulnerability of these species to extinction.

Our climate is changing fast - and sea turtles reproduce very slowly. But if we act quickly enough, we can help them to cope with their new environment. Actions like identifying new places to protect or providing natural shade on current nesting beaches to lower the temperature of the sand are just some of the many ways we can improve turtles chances of survival.


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© / Doug Wechsler / WWF
Walruses on ice, Nunavut, Canada
© Cameron Dueck / WWF

Hatching a plan to save their nests

On beaches across the world, WWF biologists are working night and day to monitor sand and nest temperatures. Their data shows the changes that are underway and helps experts design the most effective solution.

If our research shows that a vital nesting site is primarily threatened by rising sea levels, we can work with local planners to give the beach – and the turtles – a chance. Leaving important areas undeveloped would give the beach the space to move landwards as the ocean inches upwards. So turtles would still be able find a dry patch of sand to lay their eggs.

Local research can have global benefits. In Mexico, we are working with partners to study the impact of climate change on some of the world’s most important hawksbill nesting sites. Key lessons are already making a difference in places as far away as Madagascar. Just one example of how WWF is using science to tailor solutions to help marine turtles survive and thrive.


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Safeguarding sea turtles

Turtles have long been a focus in WWF's on-the-ground research and protection efforts. You can help by donating to WWF conservation work today.

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