Turtle-paced Recoveries

Published in the Pacifica Tribune July 28, 2020

Guest post by Jim Steele,

Turtle-paced Recoveries

Many humans are working hard to prevent any further extinctions of our plants and animals and with growing success. Pelicans are increasing and no longer endangered. Humpback whales are increasing at a rate of 12% per year. Mountain lions and bald eagles are increasingly abundant. In 1982 the California Condor had dwindled to just 25 individuals. A captive breeding program began and today there are about 325 individuals and condors are expanding back into their historical range. This summer, condors were seen in Sequoia National Park for the first time in 50 years.

Over-harvesting, loss of habitat and introduced species are the main causes of endangered species. The green sea turtle, prized for its meat and eggs, was seriously over-harvested and endangered. Their numbers continued to fall as beach resorts disturbed their traditional nesting sites. Many others were killed as by-catch in fishing nets. But several new studies report seeing an uptick in green turtles around the world. One of the world’s largest nesting rookeries, Raine Island off northeastern Australia, just experienced the most abundant nesting season as ~64,000 breeding turtles have arrived. What is the reason for these higher numbers?

There is a degree of certainty conservation efforts have been effective. Many countries have banned harvesting eggs or turtles for meat, although poaching remains a threat. Fishermen have developed Turtle Exclusion Devices that prevent turtles from being captured in their nets.  Still, it is extremely difficult to reliably measure the success of sea turtle conservation.

Green turtles feed primarily on low-calorie sea grass. The good news is sea grass thrives under higher concentrations of CO2. However, that diet limits turtle growth and it takes 10 to 25 years before turtles reach sexual maturity. So, even if today’s conservation efforts are successful, we won’t see today’s benefits for at least another 10 years when hatchlings return to their birth sites as breeding females.

Despite increasing populations, some researchers have been needlessly gripped by a global warming fear. Like several reptiles, a turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature of the incubating egg. Eggs at the top of a nest are warmed the most and become females. Just a 4° F cooler temperature will create males. Furthermore, sex ratio of turtles from nests along the northern Great Barrier Reef have averaged 88% to 99% females, while populations from the cooler southern Great Barrier Reef average about 66% female. So the fear is, if the earth warms only females will be born and the population goes extinct. But gender determination by temperature is not a fragile system.

Turtles evolved during the age of dinosaurs over 250 million years ago when global temperatures were much warmer. Palm trees grew along the coast of Antarctica and crocodiles roamed the Greenland coast 55 million years ago. Since then temperatures cooled and ice ages ensued, yet turtles did not become all males. Nonetheless, cooler temperatures are an immediate threat. Along the USA’s east coast, many turtles travel northward as waters warm with summer heat. But if they do not return south in time, autumn’s cooler temperatures paralyze them, stranding hundreds on east coast beaches. (Again, humans help out by flying rescued turtles back to warmer waters).

During the Holocene Optimum 6000 to 9000 years ago, temperatures were bout 1.8° F warmer than today without causing extinctions. In 1957, the Whittaker brothers petitioned Australia’s Queensland government to commercially harvest female turtles on Raine Island. They cited surveys that found over 99% of the turtles were female. That high percentage of females has remained despite 60 years of climate change and Raine island remains one of the world’s most abundant nesting sites.

There are good scientific reasons why 99% females are beneficial. Only female turtles go on shore to nest. Males remain offshore mating with every available female. One male fertilizes several females. On shore females suffer more mortality. They come ashore in the evening to avoid the deadly effects of the sun. If they do not return to the sea by early morning, they often die of heat exhaustion. Some females get disoriented or fall into pits, becoming stranded in the midday sun. Some flip over on uneven ground and cannot right themselves. On crowded beaches, some females become so exhausted from jostling with other females they return to the ocean without laying their eggs.

Females may lay 2 to 5 clutches, each with 100 eggs, during the breeding season. This greatly depletes their energy. So, females only breed every 3 to 5 years, allowing time to replenish their body condition. Finally, it is estimated only 1 of every successfully hatched turtle ever survives to maturity. So the high percentage of females is certainly not a sign of impending global warming doom. It is an ancient breeding system that maximizes egg production and ensures the species’ survival.

51 thoughts on “Turtle-paced Recoveries

  1. I’m sure the tiger sharks appreciate human efforts to help one of their favorite prey to thrive as do the various bird species that feed on the hatchlings.

    • I’d be very surprised if turtles did not have some instinctive knowledge of how deep to dig, that accounts for climatic temperature drift. They have successfully nagivated far greater changes, so clearly they are not slaves to one depth fits all mentality.

      Ecologists have a smug and contemptuous attitude to “lower forms of life” and delude themselves that without our constant nannying nothing would survive.

      In shuttling around the individuals who do not have the Darwinian wherewithall not to get stuck upside down on a beach, paralysed in cold water, or lay on the wrong bit of coast we are probably screwing up their finely tune survival instincts with false inputs.

      As always, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

      The best we can do is stop hunting an eating everything out of existence and the stop meddling.

      • “Ecologists have a smug and contemptuous attitude to “lower forms of life” ”

        They have the same attitude towards the rest of us as well.

  2. Lucky Male Turtles!

    But seriously, this is what a lot of the CO2 scam is really about. Remember when David Attenborough was lecturing the world the last 5-10 years about global warming and climate change, he was spending almost all his time lamenting the loss of biodiversity. And that really hasn’t a lot to do with CO2, other than maybe CO2 is emitted by elephant poachers when they drive their Land Rovers to do their dirty business. Plus Carbon is black, and the exhaust of coal and some diesel is sooty, so all this gets made a metaphor for CO2, global warming and climate change. I believe in taking responsible care of the planet, and have certainly done my part planting and growing millions of trees in my long life time. This could be considered real environmentalism, which was the original cause when we set out to save the Whales, when I was marching in the 2nd row just before Greenpeace was established. And don’t be setting off nuclear weapon testing on Amchitka Island, on a fault line. Pity they didn’t stick to original causes, which has some justification, because we are to be good stewards of the good Earth.

  3. I have a number of turtle soup recipes that are delicious. I’m trying a few mountain lion and bald eagle ones as well; though I hate having to pluck all those damn feathers. Initially, I’d made a few Indian headdresses out of them, but once I was accused of cultural appropriation, I stopped that. I don’t want to be accused of being “incentive”, ya know; although that might change with my next BBQ for which I have a couple of condors on ice.

    • Garold,
      I’m down to my last box of Spotted Owl Helper; do you know where I can find some more? Also, don’t forget to brine your condors before you throw them on the barbie; keeps ‘em from drying out.

      • That and semi-automatic shotguns have been extremely hard to come by since the shut-down. I’ve had to go on a waiting list for both. And thanks for the head’s up for the brine.

      • Resplendent retort, Bruce, for which there is no adequate riposte. Your jeremiad in haecceity, not so conspicuous to us plebes, must have been derived from acute exclusive lubrication to have found illumination of the imbroglio, rising as a phoenix, goals delenda all galimatias and amphigory, as a xenium of yare to the yearning of knowledge like a rhadamanthine. With vilipend redivivus whilst resisting sisyphean impulses, your tantivy to tintinnabulate the carillon of truth to free those less consumed with omphaloskepsis as yourself bring peccavi to the pilgarlick proletariats. Being one of the farrago, I can only grovel in hopes of attaining status of a famulus at the trailing of your lengthy liripipe merited in your phrontistery.

    • Consumption of plastic could be reduced by returning to turtle shells for making eyeglass frames and combs, etc.

    • Garold,

      Replace ‘liver’ in any recipe with with ‘cougar’ and proceed, but don’t under cook unless it was frozen solid first.

      If you make cougar jerky, be sure to freeze it first.

      Chicken is easier to catch and probably tastes better than eagle….

      I have never heard of any one eating buzzards … there is probably a good reason.

      And for some unknown reason, I can’t imagine shelling a turtle (and taking the fins only would be a big waste. It just doesn’t feel right. So, no soup for me.

      • Great advise, Don, thanks. I don’t eat chicken. I’m a chicken rights advocate. I’ve known so many over a life span, I finally took up their cause.

        For the turtles, I just boil the hell out of them until they’ve basically dissolved and then I use that for the base. After that you can put almost anything in you’d like; blue-throated macow, Siberian tiger, black rhino, or my favorite, panda, the big ones. Hmm, hmm!

        Sooo, soup for you? I’m no Nazi, ya know.

  4. Why are we able to take these wonderful environmental measures? Prosperity. If we had to worry about our next meal, we’d eat anything whether it was endangered or not.

    The use of fossil fuels takes the pressure off the environment. How stupid do you have to be to miss that rather obvious point?

  5. Now we just gotta send in a few US Navy SSN attack subs to sink the Chicomm’s 250 boat strong fishing fleet poaching around the Ecuadoran’s Galapagos Islands in the middle of the night. The Green’s would love the military then.

    • Attack subs usually use torpedoes as their primary weapon. I suspect that fishing boats have a very low draught, operate in littoral environments and are quite manoeuvrable – making for difficult targets.

      Small missile-equipped multi-role patrol boats would be better suited to the task…

      • Joel and Dodgy, keep your eyes on this advancing flotilla as there is a high potential for an International incident here. The Navy of Ecuador has mobilized to monitor the flotilla, especially near the Galapagos Islands. China is undertaking questionable conduct over a broad spectrum of issues. Makes one wonder what their end-game is?

        • To push and see how far they can go.

          Who would have thought that some of the world’s most powerful and secure countries would have allowed their societies, infrastructure and interests to be demolished from within? But that is what is happening.

          Greenpeace pushes the fossil-fuel companies around. BLM pushes the police, local and national governments around. The Western world’s politicians are pushed around by a 16 year old child. China is simply taking advantage of this collective lack of response….

          • China is helping by financing many of our “grass roots” movements! They are actively waging a war against America and many of our leaders, professors and talking heads are only too happy to accept their thirty pieces of silver!

          • Some folks think China has been at it since the fall of the Soviet Union and America hasn’t been paying attention.

            It seems that Mike Pompeo has just stated that America is going after regime change in China. link That could be part of President Trump’s bargaining tactics but, as with the President’s previous actions toward China, it does indicate that America has become seized of the problem.

          • The time to side with Russia was four years ago when a president had just been elected on a platform of seeking closer ties.

            Unfortunately the deep state spent the last four years totally screwing up that possibility.

            Now the fat man wants them on his side ?? Sad but laughable.

          • Whether we can get along with Russia has a lot more with what Putin does than anything the US does.
            Currently, Russia under Putin has a lot more in common with how China’s been behaving.
            Constantly pushing to see how much the international community will let them get away with.

          • “Who would have thought that some of the world’s most powerful and secure countries would have allowed their societies, infrastructure and interests to be demolished from within? But that is what is happening.”

            Yes, it’s the latest ’emergency’ to threaten Western democracies.

            Let’s call it the PANDERING PANDEMIC.

          • Ron wrote: “Makes one wonder what their end-game is?”

            Dodgy wrote: “To push and see how far they can go.”

            That’s exactly right. Bullies/dictators always push the envelop until they are stopped. The Chicom’s are pushing the envelop in many places now because they think the current discombobulation in the world caused by the Wuhan virus might benefit them, what with others being distracted by other things, or possibly they think the turmoil in the United States will prevent the U.S. from taking action against them now. Not while Trump’s president, but they may look at things differently.

            If you give a bully/dictator an inch, it will just encourage him to take a mile. The nations surrounding China should probably get themselves on a war footing as soon as possible. Perhaps perparedness alone will deter the Chimcoms from further adventures. Solidarity among the Chicom targets, against Chicom aggression, would also be very beneficial to the targets and serve as a deterence to the Chicoms.

      • Aren’t most modern torpedoes magnetically triggered?
        If the fishing boats are clustered then you can set off one in the middle of the cluster to get all of them. These things are designed to sink hardened military craft, fishing boats ought to crack a lot easier.

        You would need some kind of tender to get the small patrol boats down to the Galapagos.

        • Maybe the illegal Chicomm’s fishing fleet would be good target practise for the new laser weapons. Just burn some smallish holes in their hulls at the waterline, and let them slowly take on some water. They would soon get the message. Indonesia seizes the Chinese illegal fishing boats in their EEZ and blows them to smithereens. Argentina caught some of their fishing fleet in their EEZ and also sank them. The only thing Red China understands is a foot on their neck, and a hand on their wallet. It is time to get ruthless with the Chicomm’s as that is the only thing they understand. We respond with 10x force to every action they take, and then escalate that to 100x. When the good Chinese people realize how impotent their leaders and the Communist Party actually are, (not to mention stupid) they will dispose of them like the garbage they are, one way or another.

          • I read an article the other day that claimed the Chicom fishing fleet was overfishing in North Korean waters, and might be the reason there are so many “ghost ships” showing up in Japan.

            A ghost ship is a ship that washes up on Japan’s shores with a dead crew on board, or no crew on board. All these ships seem to be North Korean fishing boats and the thinking is the Chicom fleet is displacing these North Korean fishermen from their normal fishing grounds, forcing them to go farther out to sea, where they run out of fuel and starve to death and their boats eventually wash up on Japan’s shores.

        • What is the minimum depth that an SSN can operate in? What is the minimum depth their torpedoes need? How are you going to attack a fishing boat which can sail around to the other side of a sandbank? ….

          Unless the Chinese have a Gunter Preim and U47…..

          • Just sink every Chinese fishing boat that shows up in any countries EEZ, and provide the weapons tech and back-up support to those countries who do chose to confront the illegal poachers. The Chinese illegal fishing boats will figure it out real quick. It isn’t too complicated…we can figure out how to disable these illegal fishing boats without hurting the crew. But you give the Chicomm’s an inch and they will take 10,000 miles. This has to stop, like this week.

  6. “…Many humans are working hard to prevent any further extinctions of our plants and animals and with growing success…”

    Why? Don’t we believe in Darwin and Evolution any more? Do we think that we can freeze the whole developing field of life at some point in the 2000s?

    That show as much misplaced self-confidence as thinking that we can control the climate…..

  7. ” Finally, it is estimated only 1 of every [?] successfully hatched turtle[s] ever survives to maturity”

    Missing number?

    • A lot methinks. I wonder whether these hatchlings have the sort of mental problems over this that our kids now seem to have. (sarc

      • Ok thanks for replying! I also was wondering what the 1 out of … was supposed to be.

        Dang that is a tiny number. I think turtles will be OK. There’s a message in Minecraft to protect the turtles that every child in the industrialized world has been reading for the last 15 years.

  8. My husband and I did volunteer work over the winter at the small specimen collection/laboratory/sea turtle rescue/marine educational centre known as Gulf Specimen Marine Lab at Panacea Florida. It was founded by Jack Rudloe and his late wife the marine biologist Dr. Anne Rudloe. They are the ones that wrote that famous article about sea turtles racing to extinction that was a cover story for the National Geographic and they personally, through lobby efforts and mobilizing the community prevented 30,000+ acres of sea marsh from falling to developers. jack has written three books about his experiences with sea turtles. GSML is located on Dickerson Bay which is a critical feeding ground for the still critically endangered Kemp’s ridley during their juvenile stage, after they leave the Sargasso seas and move inland to eat and grow up before beginning their migration back to nest. Saving the sea turtles has largely been due to the work of a handful of dedicated private individuals, like the Rudloes, who made it their mission to save the educate the public and save the sea turtles and surprisingly enough, a coalition of professional fishermen and NOAA scientists who work together to perfect the sea turtle excluder from shrimp nets. Now sea turtles are big business with many professional conservation groups making lots of bucks off them. They are a heart warming success. All but Kemp’s ridleys are making a big comeback. Kemp’s nest in only one spot leaving them vulnerable to any disaster from hurricanes to oil spills. Scientists have been able to get them to expand their nesting area to now include San Padre Island. Having a second nesting site helps preserve their future.

  9. Re the temperature thing with sea turtles, I encountered a young scientist who was making her career studying sex determination in sea turtles. She was never able to get a grant for her work until she linked it to the climate change story. She confessed over drinks at a post seminar group dinner that she personally thinks the entire climate change thing is total nonsense and garbage science but, hey, it pays so she’s happy to go with it to get grants. I was shocked but everyone around me applauded her and agreed. The grant system has converted our scientists into whores, quite happy to lie in order to get money to do the work they love.

    • Well said Natalie…you are right about scientists having to whore themselves to get funding/grants to pay lip service to the CAGW scam. And thanks for putting your time in volunteering to the cause in assisting in gaining knowledge to advance the cause of the turtles. Turtles deserve to survive too and their main threat is careless habitat destruction and very poor and illegal fishing methods.

  10. “Over-harvesting, loss of habitat and introduced species are the main causes of endangered species”
    I guess this is nominally true but we are looking through humanity’s lens and focusing on what, to us, are the photogenic species we most admire. In reality failing in the competition to adapt and compete to ever changing conditions is the cause of most species extinction and the vast majority of species that ever existed on Earth are extinct. Some perspective might be appropriate. Some species present today can disappear and we would all be better for it – consider some of the parasites that make the lives of hundreds of millions miserable and short.

  11. “Many countries have banned harvesting eggs or turtles for meat, although poaching remains a threat.”

    Oh no you di-ent! 🙂

  12. Since wild crocodile skin handbags & shoes have gone out of fashion, the croc populations across northern Australia have exploded.
    (Crocs clearly don’t read those Guardian articles about how they’re now supposed to be under existential threat from the “climate emergency”, more so than they were from .303 rounds in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s)

  13. I’d like to give a shout out to this organisation, who must be at least partly responsible for turtle recovery:

    https://baliturtles.com/

    If these lockdowns ever end, I heartily recommend visiting the farm.

    Full disclosure: They’re also friends of mine.

  14. “Finally, it is estimated only 1 of every successfully hatched turtle ever survives to maturity.”

    Says so much about the quality of writing and research in the article.
    Minimal.

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