Green sea turtle. Photo / File
Rising sea levels are likely to prove a “turtle disaster” and people
power may be required to ensure their survival, Queensland scientists
An experiment has shown green sea turtle embryos are
much more likely to die when they are inside eggs that go underwater for
Scientists say the study shows the turtles, which
rely on low-lying coastal habitats, are likely to feel the early impacts
of rising sea levels.
“In some places it only takes a small rise
in sea levels, when combined with a storm or a king tide, to inundate
what had previously been secure nesting sites,” said lead researcher Dr
David Pike of James Cook University.
The study used eggs from a
green sea turtle hatchery on Queensland’s Raine Island, which were
exposed to saltwater for varying amounts of time.
Scientists found the eggs inundated for one or three hours showed no significant level of mortality.
However those underwater for six hours resulted in a 40 per cent increase in embryo deaths.
Dr Pike said this meant volunteers may be needed to physically move nests further inshore to save the species.
“We might be able to save them with people power,” he said.
Island, on the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef, supports the
world’s largest green sea turtle nesting area, with as many as 60,000
females swimming from their feeding grounds thousands of kilometres away
to lay their eggs.
But the turtle sanctuary is in danger of collapse due to rising sea levels and changes in the island’s landscape.
Pike said while inundation impacted the species’ survival, the larger
mystery surrounding the decline of green sea turtles on the island was
yet to be solved.
He said turtle numbers were also likely impacted by other factors, including high microbial levels and heavy metals in the soil.