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Climate change and sea turtles: a 150-year reconstruction of incubation temperatures at a major marine turtle rookery


G. C. Hays, tel. +44 1792 295375, fax +44 1792 295447, e-mail:


Sea turtles show temperature dependent sex determination. Using an empirical relationship between sand and air temperature, we reconstructed the nest temperatures since 1855 at Ascension Island, a major green turtle (Chelonia mydas) rookery. Our results show that inter-beach thermal variations, previously ascribed to the albedo of the sand, which varies hugely from one beach to another, have persisted for the last century. Reconstructed nest temperatures varied by only 0.5 °C on individual beaches over the course of the nesting season, while the temperature difference between two key nesting beaches was always around 3 °C. Hence inter-beach thermal variations are the main factor causing a large range of incubation temperatures at this rookery. There was a general warming trend for nests, with a mean increase in reconstructed nest temperatures for different months of between 0.36 and 0.49 °C for the last 100 years.