Around the World, 255 babies are born every minute. That's on average 4 babies per second. Now imagine that, out of those 255 newborns, 99% of them were girls. Needless to say that this would seriously put the future of humanity at risk, right? Well, this is exactly what is happening, right now, to green sea turtles in Australia. And that could have some irreversible effects on the survival of the species.
Global warming turns marine turtles female
If you've had the chance to spend some hot summer days laying on a beach and enjoying the sun more than an elephant seal would do, you're probably familiar with the sensation of sand burning your feet. When the sun is at its highest point, the temperature of the sand increases very quickly, which can make walking to the ice-cream stand without flip-flops a nightmare for your feet. Luckily for you though, this is as bad as the sand temperature will affect you. It wouldn't cause any damage to your organs, for example. Nevermind influencing on the sex of your future baby.
Unfortunately, it's a different story for marine turtles. The temperature of the sand in which the female lays her eggs will directly influence the sex of her future babies. The warmer the sand, the more likely the eggs will turn out female.
The problem is, as the temperature rises with global warming, so does the temperature of the sand. As a result, more and more sea turtles in Australia are turning female. Green sea turtles are the most affected species, with 99% of the studied turtles found to be female.
Researching the sex of a turtle
You cannot determine the sex of a baby turtle just by looking at it. Researchers in Australia had to find another solution: running after and - gently - catching baby turtles before they reached the sea. This enabled them to distinguish the sex by taking some blood and DNA samples.
While scientists were expecting to find a slightly higher number of female than male in their study, the results were staggering: females outnumbered males 116 to 1.
A threat for other species too
The shocking results of the study increase concerns about the survival of the wider marine turtles population, as well as other species. Animals such as alligators and iguanas are also thought to be under threat due to global warming and rising temperature.
While the current population of marine turtles is sufficiently balanced to provide more offsprings, there is an inevitable crisis ahead. Scientists are worried that in twenty years from now, there might not be enough male sea turtles to ensure the survival of the species.
It is difficult, however, to determine exactly when, and how, the number of male turtles may drop too low. Some regions of the World still have cool enough water to see the birth of male offsprings, and the risk could also be higher or lower depending on the turtle species. The temperature of the area itself also depends on local factors.
But scientists are sure of one thing: urgent work is required to find local and global solutions to the problem. Or else, marine turtles survival will be threatened in the decades and centuries to come.