How Intense Temperature Changes Are Swapping Turtle Genders

Climate change is threatening the world’s population of sea turtles by turning them all female, according to scientists.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California State University, and Worldwide Fund for Nature Australia recently published a study in Current Biology that reveals Australia’s population of sea turtles in feminizing, and not in the good way where they all agree that workplace sexual harassment is wrong.

Instead, researchers found that warming ocean temperatures are causing all sea turtles born on Northern Australian beaches to be female.

Unlike in humans, where the sex of the offspring is essentially a coin toss, sea turtle gender is determined by ambient temperature. The warmer the climate, the more likely the baby sea turtle will be born female, while the colder it is the more likely it will be born male.

“Combining our results with temperature data show that the northern GBR green turtle rookeries have been producing primarily females for more than two decades and that the complete feminization of this population is possible in the near future,” wrote researchers in the study.

“With warming global temperatures and most sea turtle populations naturally producing offspring above the pivotal temperature, it is clear that climate change poses a serious threat to the persistence of these populations.”

The study goes on to say that it is possible for many populations of sea turtle to die off within a single generation at the current rate of global warming.

Climate Change is hitting marine Australian species particularly hard, with the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef being a source of intense anxiety for marine biologists.

“Bleaching” occurs when high sea temperatures cause the coral to expel algae that live inside them. These algae are important to the coral as they provide most of the coral’s energy in a symbiotic relationship. Without them, the coral starves and dies, turning white in the process.

Without the coral, many marine animals stand to lose their homes and only food source they’ve ever known. In 2016, researchers experienced the worst die-off of the Great Barrier Reef on record, with more than 60% of corals turning white.

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