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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 667:177-190 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13721

Trialling seawater irrigation to combat the high nest temperature feminisation of green turtle Chelonia mydas hatchlings

Caitlin E. Smith1,*, David T. Booth2, Anne Crosby2, Jeffrey D. Miller3, Melissa N. Staines2, Hayley Versace4, Christine A. Madden-Hof 1

1World Wide Fund for Nature—Australia, Brisbane, QLD 4000, Australia
2School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4067, Australia
3Biological Research and Education Consultants, 446 Dearborn Avenue, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
4The Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative, Panasesa Island, Alotau, Milne Bay Province 211, Papua New Guinea
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Global increases in beach sand temperatures are predicted to skew hatchling sex ratios of marine turtle populations towards female bias. Currently, shade structures and freshwater irrigation are management strategies used to cool nest temperatures, but require resources that are limited at remote rookeries. Here, we report on a novel investigation that used seawater irrigation as a sand-cooling method. Various volumes of seawater were applied to sand to determine the optimal application required to lower sand temperatures at nest depth to produce male-biased sex ratios. We performed these experiments during the 2019-2020 nesting season at Heron Island on the southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and at Panasesa Island, Papua New Guinea. We found the amount of cooling at nest depth was site dependent and varied with the seawater irrigation regime used. At Heron Island, we used a one-off application of the equivalent of 120 mm of rainfall either as freshwater or seawater to the sand above incubating clutches 18 d after oviposition to determine whether this affected the hatching success of green turtle Chelonia mydas eggs. Both treatments had higher hatching success (83.8 ± 3.5% and 71.2 ± 6.3%, respectively, means ± SE) compared to control clutches (63.5 ± 6.0%). Our results indicate that a one-off application of seawater may be an effective management option for reducing nest temperatures during the sex-determining period of marine turtle clutches incubating in situ. Seawater irrigation could be used in areas where populations are at highest risk of feminisation caused by a hot drying climate where freshwater is not available for irrigation.


KEY WORDS: Conservation management · Sea turtle · Irrigation · Embryonic development · Watering


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Cite this article as: Smith CE, Booth DT, Crosby A, Miller JD, Staines MN, Versace H, Madden-Hof CA (2021) Trialling seawater irrigation to combat the high nest temperature feminisation of green turtle Chelonia mydas hatchlings. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 667:177-190. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13721

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