Malaysia's endangered turtles face extinction as climate change disturbs sex ratio of hatchlings

The rising temperatures caused by climate change are threatening the survival of sea turtles in Malaysia. The country's beaches serve as crucial nesting sites for various turtle species, including the green turtle, which is considered endangered. However, the increasing global temperatures are causing the sand temperature to rise, leading to an imbalance in the gender ratio of turtle hatchlings.

UMT turtle expert Mohd Uzair Rusli highlights that many areas along the eastern coast of the peninsula have recorded a significant decrease in the number of male hatchlings over the past few years. This situation poses a grave concern as the absence of males may prevent successful mating and reproduction in the future.

The sensitive incubation process of turtle eggs relies on a narrow temperature range. According to Nicholas Tolen, a researcher and PhD student with UMT, even a slight variation in temperature can profoundly impact the gender composition of the hatchlings. Turtles lay their eggs on random sites across the beach, and there is a lack of monitoring systems for beach temperatures.

Other human activities, such as the disposal of plastic waste, are exacerbating the threat to turtles. Plastic debris washes up on beaches and eventually washes back into the sea, expending more heat and releasing it into the sand. Volunteers conduct clean-up operations to address the issue, but the problem is pervasive. The conservation efforts conducted by universities and volunteers in Chagar Hutang have resulted in a record number of nests in 2022. However, the potential extinction of turtles due to rising temperatures threatens to undermine the progress made in conservation efforts.

Sea turtles play a vital role in maintaining the health of the world's oceans. They contribute to maintaining a balanced ecosystem and regulating marine food chains. Turtle nesting sites attract tourists, which constitutes a significant source of income for local communities like Redang. The potential extinction of turtles could result in a decline in tourism.

Given the current rate of temperature increases, Mohd Uzair predicts a potential imbalance in the gender ratio of turtles in the next 10-15 years, whereby there may not be enough males to facilitate successful mating and reproduction. The preservation of sea turtles is crucial to maintain biodiversity and ensure the long-term health of marine ecosystems. Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and properly manage waste are essential to safeguard the future of these ancient creatures.

Read more