The importance of sand albedo for the thermal conditions on sea turtle nesting beaches


  • G. C. Hays,

  • J. S. Ashworth,

  • M. J. Barnsley,

  • A. C. Broderick,

  • D. R. Emery,

  • B. J. Godley,

  • A. Henwood,

  • E. L. Jones

G. C. Hays, J. S. Ashworth, A. C. Broderick, B. J. Godley, A. Henwood and E. L. Jones, School of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea, UK SA2 8PP ( – M. J. Barnsley, Dept of Geography, Univ. of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea, UK SA2 8PP. – D. R. Emery, Dept of Geography, NERC Equipment Pool for Field Spectroscopy, Univ. of Southampton, Southampton, UK SO17 1BJ.


At Ascension Island and Cyprus, major nesting areas for green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, respectively, visual inspection shows some beaches are light in colour while others are darker. We objectively measured the albedo of the sand on different beaches, i.e. the percentage of the incident solar radiation that was reflected from the sand surface. At sites where albedo was recorded, we also measured the temperature of the sand at nest depths. At both rookeries, the sand temperature was markedly higher on darker beaches due to greater absorption of the incident solar radiation over the diurnal cycle. Temperature loggers buried at nest depths revealed seasonal changes in temperature on both islands, but showed that the lowest temperatures found on the darker beaches rarely dropped below the highest temperatures on the lighter beaches. Sea turtles exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination. Since sand albedo is a major avenue for the production of a range of incubation temperatures on both islands, it will also have profound implications for hatchling sex ratios. In comparison with both Ascension Island and Cyprus, for samples collected from sea turtle rookeries around the world there was an even greater range in sand albedo values. This suggests that sand albedo, a factor that has previously received little consideration, will have profound implications for nest temperatures, and hence hatchling sex ratios, for other populations and species.