Posted by Michaela LeMay | 11.28.2023 | Turtle Talk

Turtles and Temperature

As the temperature drops and we all begin to add in more layers to keep warm, I thought it was fitting to discuss the importance of temperature and sea turtles. There are two different impacts temperature has on sea turtles. Since they are reptiles, they are ectothermic, or cold-blooded. Simplistically, this means they are unable to regulate their body temperature. We, as humans, are endothermic, warm-blooded, and are able to regulate our body temperature. This time of year, we can put on a coat or sweatshirt, but turtles don’t have that luxury.

When the ocean temperatures start to cool, dropping below 50 degrees, sea turtles can develop something called cold stun. This happens when a turtle is in a location where it cannot retreat to warmer waters fast enough to prevent the impact on its body. Instead, it becomes disoriented, weak, and loses control of its buoyancy. This may keep them at the surface of the ocean, leaving them open to injury. They may also strand on a beach and need human care to aid in their recovery from a cold stun. There are cold-stunning events, which occur when there is a massive drop in air and ocean temperatures. This is where numerous sea turtles are affected by the water temperatures. Cold stunning is very common in the fall and early winter due to the drops in temperatures that require you to turn your heat on or put on a jacket.

The other way temperature affects sea turtles is during their incubation period in the sand. The temperature at which the eggs incubate determines the sex of the sea turtle. Warmer temperatures will produce females and cooler temperatures will produce males. If there is a mix of temperatures, it will produce males and females. This has been a topic of heavy discussion and research because, with rising temperatures, there could be an issue in male-to-female ratios.