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Keeping track of storms to protect endangered turtles

Coastal managers must anticipate and follow tropical storm patterns to protect endangered sea turtle species more effectively.

Sea turtles are highly endangered because their sensitive nesting grounds are under threat. When going to nest, these turtles return to the same beaches where they were hatched and they develop distinct nesting grounds over the course of generations. Humans are jeopardizing these beach habitats through coastal development and other emerging causes like climate change. It turns out, however, that extreme weather events are also significant in shaping sea turtle habitats. This poses an additional hurdle for coastal managers. The protection of such turtles will depend on an understanding of the changing weather patterns that are driving these animals to move to new areas.
 
According to a study in The Journal of Biogeography, extreme weather events have significantly shaped the nesting locations of sea turtles. Researchers from James Cook University have looked at the ways tropical cyclones on the eastern coast of Australia have changed the nesting patterns of turtle species. The scientists looked at both the breeding seasons and the distribution of nesting sites with regard to historical storm patterns. They found that the turtles had indeed developed nesting sites to avoid tropical storms, as revealed by historical data on nesting locations. This suggests that the turtles have adapted to storm conditions in ways that increase the survival of their offspring under high-mortality situations. Tropical cyclones, then, have played a role in their evolutionary survival.

It is important to understand how storms can affect the survival of sea turtles. Knowing how populations react to different disturbances allows conservationists to gauge how the animals will fare in the future. It also allows them to take preventative action in protecting the areas where the turtles lay their eggs and can better inform how to move eggs and hatchlings to safer locations. The fact that storm patterns will likely change and become more forceful in the future means that plans should be devised now to ensure the survival of these species.

 
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Original Paper:

Mariana M. P. B. Fuentes, Brooke L. Bateman, and Mark Hamann, “Relationship between tropical cyclones and the distribution of sea turtle nesting grounds,” Journal of Biogeography, 38 (2011), 1886-1896. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02541.x
 

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