The leatherback turtle is disappearing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study.
Female leatherback turtle on nesting beach
The study found that the number of leatherback turtle nests in the Bird’s Head Peninsula of New Guinea has dropped by a staggering 78% in the last 30 years. These beaches account for three-quarters of the western Pacific’s nesting leatherback turtles, meaning this decline could have serious consequences for the future of the species in the Pacific Ocean.
“Sea turtles have been around about 100 million years and survived the extinction of the dinosaurs but are struggling to survive the impact of humans,” said Thane Wibbels, one of the researchers.
Fishermen holding a dead, captured leatherback turtle
The leatherback turtle is the largest of the world’s turtles, and is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Like all sea turtles, this species faces a range of threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, boat strikes, harvesting of its eggs by humans, and predation of its eggs by feral dogs and pigs. In addition, the leatherback turtle also accidentally consumes plastic bags, mistaking them for its jellyfish prey.
Climate change is also a serious threat to the leatherback turtle. Rising sea levels and increasingly frequent and violent storms may erode nesting beaches and destroy nests, while changing ocean currents are likely to affect the turtle’s prey.
Feral dogs are a threat to leatherback turtles, digging up and eating their eggs
The gender of leatherback turtle hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated, so warmer sand is likely to produce more females, skewing the species’ sex ratio. In addition, warmer temperatures have been known to cause abnormalities in hatchlings, and to affect the health and development of the young turtles.
In comparison to the Atlantic Ocean, where several nesting populations of leatherback turtles have increased in recent years, the status of the species in other oceans is of greater concern.
“The leatherback is one of the most intriguing animals in nature, and we are watching it head towards extinction in front of our eyes,” said Wibbels.
Conservationists have begun programmes to move leatherback turtle nests to more sheltered and shaded areas, where the eggs will be cooler, in the hope of increasing the success rate of hatchlings.
Leatherback turtle hatchlings face many perils, and very few survive to adulthood
The leatherback turtle is legally protected throughout most of its range, and a variety of other conservation measures are underway to help save this impressive marine reptile. For example, the attachment of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to fishing nets to reduce bycatch of turtles has been recommended.
However, much still needs to be done to save this marine giant. According to the researchers, a range of conservation measures need to be implemented at nesting beaches and in national and international waters if the decline of the Pacific’s last remaining leatherback stronghold is to be reversed.
Everybody loves polar bears – don’t they? Today is International Polar Bear Day, a chance for us all to celebrate this magnificent species and do our bit to help them.
Polar bears on thin ice
Polar bears might look big and tough but with their arctic habitat disappearing fast, the future of the world’s largest land carnivore is in our hands. Climate change is the biggest threat facing polar bears, as they depend on sea ice for hunting and breeding grounds and as the ice retreats, they must increasingly travel longer, more challenging distances across open water.
Video of polar bear moving over thin ice and swimming between ice floes
We can all play a part in reducing the threats to polar bears. Today, Polar Bear International is encouraging us all to do our bit to reduce our carbon footprint. You can take part in their challenge to turn your thermostat down (or up) a few degrees (depending on where you live), lowering your carbon emissions and helping polar bears today and everyday .
Share your love for polar bears
We’re celebrating polar bear day across all our social channels – why not join in and help us to raise the profile of polar bears.
Turtles took over @ARKive’s Twitter account yesterday when turtle expert Professor Brendan Godley answered your burning questions about sea turtles. We loved Brendan’s guest blogs about his turtle research and leatherback turtles, so we were delighted when he offered to take time out of his busy research schedule on Ascension Island to tweet about turtles (in temperatures of 35 °C).
And Brendan wasn’t just feeling the heat on Ascension, but also on our Twitter stream. You tweeted some tricky questions to test his expertise, but we think you’ll agree that he came up turtle trumps! Here are just some of the #turtletweet highlights:
Female flatback turtle digging nest
Turtles on Ascension
@JellicleKat You’re out on Ascension Island at the moment…how long is the nesting season, and how many females nest there? #turtletweet
In the 1930s it was down to a few hundred but now about 5000 per year. 6 month season. #turtletweet
@inthefieldnews Sea turtles return to the same beach where they hatched as juveniles to breed…but where do they go in between?
They go to one or more foraging areas that can be many thousands of miles. eg here on Ascension its Brazil #turtletweet
Top Turtle Facts
@eldenney: what’s your most interesting turtle fact? Thanks! #turtletweet
The fact that green turtles can rest at the bottom of the Mediterrannean sea for as long as 10.5 hours #turtletweet
@eldenney Cool! I can’t stay underwater for much more than 30 secs! Green turtles are impressive #turtletweet
Green turtle with turtle barnacles on its shell
@clairecjl: Hi Brendan, I was wondering how long it takes leatherbacks to reach full size? #turtletweet
This is still debated, with work to be done but anywhere between 10 and 20 years seem the best estimates to date. #turtletweet
What’s the difference between a turtle and a terrapin?
@lillashaw Hi Brendan, we were debating this in the office the other day… What’s the difference between a turtle and terrapin? #turtletweet
Its semantics N america everything can be a turtle, in UK turtle is sea, terrapin is freshwater, tortoise on land. #turtletweet
Turtles and fishing
@Jess_Cripps Do you think more could be done by fisheries to reduce the bycatch of turtles in their equipment? #turtletweet
I do. Much has been done already TEDS (trawlers), Circle hooks (longlines) and these can be improved #turtletweet
One of the great ongoing challenges is that of how to minimise bycatch in gillnets #turtletweet
Green turtle trapped in fishing net
Which species of turtles are thriving? Which are endangered?
RT @DanielsImage: @ARKive@BrendanGodley How many species of sea turtles are there? Are any thriving? #turtletweet
.@DanielsImage @BrendanGodley Big winners r Atlantic green turtles, ones struggling incl Pacific leatherbacks and hawksbills. #turtletweet
Why are turtles endangered?
@harrypurplmonky What has happened to make turtles endangered? #turtletweet
Exploited for meat and eggs for a long time &have started to recover where they r protected on beach and sea#turtletweet
The shells of green turtles, butchered alive for blood and meat
.@inthefieldnews… what would you say is the biggest threat facing sea turtles worldwide?
as with all marine biodiversity; I would say it fishing followed by climate change #turtletweet
@Jess_Cripps: Do you think turtles will start to breed earlier in response to climate change? #turtletweet
Not yet but it will soon! In Cyprus they are already 90% female…will get worse with inc temps #turtletweet
@eldenney: poor boys! #turtletweet
Kemp’s ridley turtle hatchlings
@Wildlife_Jason: What would you say is the worst problem for #turtles caused by #plasticpollution in our oceans?
“Turtles, partic babies & all leatherbacks eat it..less of a problem than fisheries though” via @BrendanGodley #turtletweet
Green turtle suffocating on plastic bag
Turtles on film
@WildscreenFest: What part does wildlife filmmaking has to play in #turtle conservation? #turtletweet
@Wildlife_Film: What did you think of the footage of baby green turtles in @BBCNature #Africa?bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01… #turtletweet
As seen on recent #Africa, there is clearly a role. MT are emblomatic #turtletweet
@Podgeosaurus: When filming do you think crews should aid baby turtles, or stay hands off? #turtletweet
Difficult one; up to individs. they shouldnt do is make things worse by releasing in daylight or hold hatchlings back#turtletweet
@lauriebelch why do some populations of turtles hatch in the day when it seems that predation risk is much higher#turtletweet
.@ARKive @lauriebelch very few do, but for obvious reasons we see more of it on film. More starlight cameras needed. #turtletweet
How can we help turtles?
@eldenney: so is there anything we can do to help turtles? #turtletweet
think about seafood choices, climate change and your role, get involved or help those who are.#turtletweet
@DanielsImage: Our support $ only go so far. Are there any organizations to support turtles you favor? #turtletweet
If I was to plump for one I would choose @seaturtle .org which is a one man show, no overheads and has transformed the field
@dodger_wake Some may not like it can we not ‘farm’ the endangered turtles to allow survival rates for eggs to raise then release
It’s done in the Cayman Islands for over 40 years, adults are now returning that were released #turtletweet
Cute or shocking photos?
@wild_photos: Our question for @ARKive’s#turtletweet! What do you think is more powerful in conservation: cute turtle images or ones showing turtle loss?
.@colaciregui @wild_photos @KACHUGABUT pictures of baby turtles always draws a gasp from the crowd! :)
Young hawksbill turtle caught in a fishing net
@harrypurplmonky Wow what a #turtletweet! TY @ARKive & @brendangodley Harry’s learned so much about turtles & conservation!… http://fb.me/KGOX0CX8
@Wildlife_Jason @BrendanGodley @ARKive Thanks for an informative #turtletweet time! :)
We’d like to join our followers in thanking Professor Brendan Godley for his turtle-takeover – informative, thought-provoking, and turtle-tastic!
Get regular updates from Brendan by following him on Twitter @brendangodley, and check out his recommended top tweeters: @UoExeterCEC, @EcoSoc_Tremough, @LifeNatureMag and @BioBlitzTremou.
Would you like to see more twitter takeovers? What topics would you be interested in? Follow @ARKive and let us know!
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Alaska’s sea otters are helping to combat ocean acidification by preying on sea urchins which, if left unchecked, could be detrimental to the health of the oceans, according to a new study.
Sea otter grooming among kelp
By preying on sea urchins that feed on underwater kelp beds, sea otters are stemming the accumulation of acidic carbon dioxide in Alaska’s waters. When absorbed into the ocean, atmospheric carbon dioxide increases water acidity levels, a phenomenon known as ‘ocean acidification’, which can be harmful to marine environments. Kelp beds are important components of marine ecosystems, as they absorb oceanic carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, and produce oxygen in its place.
According to a new study published in a recent issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, otter-protected kelp beds absorb approximately 12 times as much carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis as thinned-out kelp beds. By eating sea urchins, otters are providing the kelp forests with a chance to grow and help reduce ocean acidification.
Based on prices used in the European Carbon Exchange, the study reports that it would cost between $205 million and $408 million to offset the carbon that urchin-eating sea otters are enabling kelp beds to absorb.
Sea otter feeding on red sea urchin
Cute and beneficial
Co-author Jim Estes said that he hopes the study, which relied on data collected over a 40-year period between British Columbia, Canada, and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, would help people to understand the importance of sea otters and the far-reaching benefits they provide.
“On the one side, people like sea otters because they’re fuzzy, cool things. On the other side, a lot of people hate them,” said Mr Estes, a biologist and sea otter expert at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He went on to explain that fishermen, including shellfish harvesters, are in direct competition with sea otters, and are notoriously hostile towards the charismatic marine mammals. However, Mr Estes pointed out that by preserving kelp forests, sea otters are actually providing a service to fishermen, as kelp beds are an important habitat for many fish species.
Sea otter pair anchored in kelp
A species under threat
Victims of a commercial harvest, sea otters were once hunted to the brink of extinction, until a treaty in 1911 ended the commercial hunt and numbers began to increase. Yet according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the species is still not out of the woods. The sea otter population from Kodiak, Alaska, to the western Aleutian Islands has dropped sharply in size in recent years, potentially declining as much as 67% since the mid-1980s. In 2005, the western Alaska sea otter population was listed as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act.
Oil spills and other human-related impacts have also had a negative effect on sea otter numbers, but many scientists studying Alaska’s populations believe that predation by killer whales is currently the main reason for declines. Steller’s sea lions and seals, key prey species for killer whales, have become scarce, leading the whales to target sea otters.
ARKive’s Creative Climate Change Challenge was launched during Climate Week back in March. We asked you to get creative and through an exciting and engaging way, raise awareness about a species affected by climate change.
The creativity was outstanding – we received everything from papier mache penguins to clownfish cookies. The ARKive judges were taken on an emotional roller coaster – from the tear jerking tale of the table mountain ghost frog to the awe-inspiring sounds of a karaoke koala!
The judges were looking for entries which evoked an emotional response that would inspire people to do something to help combat climate change. The results are in and there were 3 entries that, in the judges’ minds, stood out above the rest. So, drum roll please……..
Winner of the 16-18 category
I bet your drum roll’s not as good as the drumming skills of these very worthy winners – the Antsiranana Boy Scouts group! The scouts wrote and performed a song about climate change and its effects on the hawksbill turtle, which nests on the beaches of Northern Madagascar where the boys live. The scouts conduct all their awareness raising activities in collaboration with Community Centred Conservation (C3).
The Antsiranana Boy Scouts say, “We will be performing this song in local rural communities, but hope that people all over the world will watch online and learn more about the effects of climate change on the fano hara (hawksbill turtle in Malagasy) and what can be done to help.”
And finally, the prize for the under 11 category goes to Marcus and Kalina from the the UK. Top marks for entertainment. Flying fish anyone?
Marcus and Kalina’s teacher, Tasha Waldman, believes that educating children about climate change helps to raise awareness of our planet, giving understanding and hope to future generations. Marcus comments “Global warming is important because it is changing our planet and we need to help animals who can’t change with it“. Kalina agrees saying, “Lots of animals are dying and it’s our fault. It’s not just minor, it’s a MAJOR problem“. Wise words from some of our youngest contestants.
Why not share one of the Creative Climate Change Challenge winning entries, helping our worthy winners to get their voice and message about climate change heard around the globe.
You can also let us know what you’re doing to help combat climate change by entering your comments below or joining in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.
Congratulations to all our winners and a big thank you to all who took part in ARKive’s Creative Climate Change Challenge.