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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 7:137-154 (2009)  -  DOI:

Climate change and marine turtles

Lucy A. Hawkes1,4, Annette C. Broderick1, Matthew H. Godfrey2,3, Brendan J. Godley1,*

1Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of Biosciences, University of Exeter, Tremough Campus, Treliever Road, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9EZ, UK
2North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 1507 St. Ann Street, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
3Nicholas School of Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University Marine Lab, 135 Marine Lab Road, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516-9721, USA
4Present address: School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University, Brambell Building, Deiniol Road, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Marine turtles occupy a wide range of terrestrial and marine habitats, and many aspects of their life history have been demonstrated to be closely tied to climatic variables such as ambient temperature and storminess. As a group, therefore, marine turtles may be good indicators of climate change effects on coastal and marine habitats. Despite the small number of species in the taxon and a growing body of research in the field, the evidence base to predict resultant impacts of climate change remains relatively poor. We review the data from peer-reviewed publications to assess the likely impacts of climate change on marine turtles and highlight the types of data that would be most useful for an accurate assessment of future effects. The cumulative indications from these previous studies indicate that future research should focus on: (1) climate change effects on key habitats upon which turtles depend; (2) factors that influence nest site selection; (3) the consequences of skewed primary sex ratios; and (4) the effect of climate change on turtles at sea, for example range shifts and dietary breadth. Although it is too early to give detailed management recommendations, careful protection of coastlines along which turtles nest should be considered, as should the protection of beaches that produce male hatchlings, which may be of increased importance in the future. More active management approaches, for example translocation of eggs to suitable yet vacant nesting beaches, may be necessary to consider under worst-case scenarios.

KEY WORDS: Global warming · Sea turtle · Temperature · Sex ratio · Phenology · Range · Conservation management · Sea level rise

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Cite this article as: Hawkes LA, Broderick AC, Godfrey MH, Godley BJ (2009) Climate change and marine turtles. Endang Species Res 7:137-154.

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