We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Why Are So Few Male Sea Turtles Being Born in Northern Australia?

Scientists say that climate change is drastically altering the nature of the green sea turtle population near the Great Barrier Reef. This is because the sex of a turtle hatchling is determined not by chromosomes, but by the incubation temperature of sandy nests along the beach. At about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 degrees Celsius), turtle nests produce relatively equal numbers of male and female hatchlings. Cooler temperatures produce more males, while warmer sand causes the embryos to develop as females. Warmer nests in certain areas have caused more than 99 percent of green sea turtles to hatch female.

"She" needs a "he" to survive:

  • A 2018 study in the journal Current Biology found that ongoing warming has led to an abundance of female turtles at a major nesting area called Raine Island. Sand temperatures have been climbing there since the 1960s.
  • Determining a turtle’s sex is not easy. Without external genitalia, you can’t just flip over a turtle and take a look. You either have to make an incision to see the organs, or examine plasma or hormone levels.
  • Australia isn’t the only place where female turtles are taking over. Researchers in Florida have noticed a preponderance of female loggerhead turtles in recent years.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is causing the decline in male sea turtle births in Northern Australia?

The decline in male sea turtle births in Northern Australia is primarily due to rising temperatures. Sea turtle gender is determined by the temperature of the sand where eggs are incubated. Warmer sands result in more females being born. With global warming, sand temperatures have increased, skewing the sex ratio towards females.

How does temperature affect sea turtle gender?

Sea turtle gender determination is temperature-dependent. Eggs incubated in cooler sand, typically below 29.5 degrees Celsius, produce mostly males, while warmer sand above this threshold yields mostly females. This phenomenon is known as temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), which is common in some reptiles, including sea turtles.

What are the potential consequences of a skewed sex ratio in sea turtle populations?

A skewed sex ratio in sea turtle populations can lead to reproductive challenges. With fewer males, the genetic diversity of future generations may decrease, making the population more vulnerable to diseases and environmental changes. Additionally, it could result in a breeding bottleneck, where females have limited mating opportunities, potentially reducing population growth rates.

Are there any conservation efforts in place to address this issue?

Conservationists are implementing strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change on sea turtle sex ratios. These include shading nests to lower temperatures and relocating nests to cooler areas. Some researchers are also exploring the potential of artificial rain to cool nests. These efforts aim to ensure a more balanced sex ratio for sustainable sea turtle populations.

Can sea turtles adapt to these changing environmental conditions?

Sea turtles have limited capacity to adapt quickly to rapid environmental changes, such as those caused by climate change. However, some adaptation may occur over time through natural selection for turtles that nest earlier in the season or in cooler locations. Conservation efforts can support this natural adaptation by protecting critical habitats and mitigating direct human impacts.

Is this phenomenon unique to Northern Australia, or is it observed in other parts of the world?

This phenomenon is not unique to Northern Australia. Similar trends have been observed in other regions where sea turtles nest. For instance, studies in Florida have also reported higher proportions of female hatchlings due to increased sand temperatures. Global climate change suggests that this could become a widespread issue for sea turtle populations worldwide.

Discussion Comments

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.