What Climate Change Means for Sea Turtles

As representatives from 195 countries meet in Paris at the U.N. COP21 climate change summit, The Leatherback Trust’s Executive Director, Dr. George Shillinger, discusses the significance of climate change for sea turtles and how local communities can mitigate negative impacts.

Sea turtles are excellent indicators for climate change because they are impacted at nesting beaches with higher temperatures, rising sea levels and shoreline erosion as well as at sea where changing ocean temperatures and circulation affect distribution of food sources.

Scientists affiliated with The Leatherback Trust have conducted research on the effect of local climate on hatchling output, climate change impacts on pelagic habitat, climate driven egg and hatchling mortality, and phenology shifts due to changes in sea surface temperature. But more research is needed.

We need to be proactive by forecasting the effects of climate change and protecting turtles from threats as they seek out new beaches for nesting and in the ocean as they follow moving food sources. The Leatherback Trust is working to not only protect turtles where they are now but also where they will be in the future.

Our work to safeguard nesting beaches for critically endangered leatherbacks at Las Baulas National Park is more important than ever. Scientists from The Leatherback Trust are developing innovative techniques to mitigate against negative impacts of climate change on turtle nests.

We are grateful to the community of Playa Grande for taking a positive role to reduce the effects of climate change on sea turtles. By maintaining native forest cover and planting trees along the beach, our neighbors and volunteers help reduce beach erosion and keep nests cool.