Drexel finds leatherback sea turtles may be especially vulnerable to climate change

    New research out of Drexel University suggests that the leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific will be hit hard by rising global temperatures.

    The largest of all the sea turtles, leatherbacks grow to be four to eight feet long. The endangered animals live in the Atlantic ocean as well, but populations have dwindled most in the Pacific.

    The new study found that in El Nino years, when the weather is hot and dry on a main nesting beach in Costa Rica, considerably fewer turtle eggs hatch.

    “They basically bake,” said Drexel Professor James Spotila. “They go above the lethal temperature for egg development.”

    Spotila has been studying turtles at that beach for more than 20 years and oversaw the study.

    Using models of future climate change, Spotila’s team projected in the next hundred years, only about one in six eggs will actually hatch, compared to about one in two now.

    “If people want a smoking gun about climate change, this is it,” Spotila said.

    Spotila’s team has started testing whether spraying the beaches down with water can increase hatching success. They will soon test the effect building shade structures over nests has.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.