(Reuters) — Florida’s sea turtles are dealing with a unique problem made worse by climate change: Recent heat waves have made the sand on some beaches so hot that almost all turtles hatched are female.

“The scariest thing is that the last four summers in Florida have been the hottest on record,” says Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, a city in the Florida Keys, which is a chain of tropical islands stretching from the southern tip of the state.

turtle heat

A masked turtle swims in the Turtle Hospital.

“Scientists studying sea turtle hatchlings and eggs haven’t found any males, so there have only been female sea turtles in the last four years,” said Zirkelbach, whose turtle center has been in operation since 1986.

The trend is just one of many signs that the climate crisis is disrupting Earth’s natural ecosystems, moving too fast for many species to adapt.

When a female turtle digs a nest on a beach, the temperature of the sand determines the sex of the hatchlings. Zirkelbach said an Australian study showed similar statistics: “99% of new sea turtle hatchlings are female.”

turtle heat

A masked turtle swims in the Turtle Hospital.

Rather than determining sex during fertilization, the sex of sea turtles and alligators depends on the temperature of the developing eggs, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

If a turtle’s eggs are incubated below 80°F, the turtle hatchlings will be male, while if they are incubated above 90°F, they will be female, according to the National Ocean Service website. from NOAA.

“Over the years, there is going to be a sharp decline in the population because we won’t have genetic diversity,” says Melissa Rosales Rodríguez, a sea turtle keeper at the newly opened Zoo Miami turtle hospital. “We don’t have the male to female ratio needed to be able to have successful breeding sessions.”

The two turtle hospitals are also fighting tumors in turtles known as fibropapillomatosis, also known as FP. These tumors are contagious to other turtles and can cause death if left untreated.

With the weather affecting the tortoises’ future and the disease being so widespread, Zirkelbach sees a need to save as many tortoises as he can and open more rehabilitation centers.

“The Turtle Hospital was the first. But unfortunately and fortunately, there is a need throughout Florida.”

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