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Wed Dec 26, 2018, 12:38 PM

'It's warm water now': climate change strands sea turtles on Cape Cod shores

The Gulf of Maine’s rapidly warming waters draws in larger numbers of Kemp’s ridley turtles, enticing them to stay longer

At the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in a repurposed shipyard building south of Boston, the casualties of climate change swim in tanks as they recover after being pulled stunned from the beach.

Every year, as autumn turns to winter and ocean temperatures off Massachusetts drop below 10C (50F), dead, dying and stricken sea turtles wash up on the shores of Cape Cod as those shelled reptiles that have failed to migrate south start to die in the chilly waters.

In the 1980s, the number of sea turtles stranded on the shores of Cape Cod every year averaged in the dozens. That average went up through the 1990s and 2000s, but over the past decade it has risen dramatically: 2014 saw more than 1,200 turtles make landfall. This year, more than 790 sea turtles have washed up on Cape Cod so far. Some 720 of those are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, a critically endangered species that nests on the shores of the much warmer Gulf of Mexico.

It is an event unmatched in magnitude anywhere else in the world.

Those who study sea turtles say part of the reason that annual strandings are up in Massachusetts is that efforts to conserve and boost Kemp’s ridley populations have been successful. But the other part is that the Gulf of Maine is rapidly warming in the face of climate change and proving to be a more hospitable environment for turtles than it used to be, drawing them in larger numbers and resulting in them staying longer into the year.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/26/climate-change-sea-turtles-massachusetts


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Edward Filangeri is a volunteer pilot who helps the organisation Turtles Fly Too to move turtles from Massachusetts to other facilities. Every year since 2014, Filangeri has flown his single-engine aircraft up from New York’s Long Island, where he lives, to Massachusetts to pick up turtles packed in banana boxes and ferry them south. By flying during November and December he has to contend with winter weather while also working to keep the temperature in his small aircraft turtle-friendly.

“When we get the temperature just right they want to start swimming and I know we’re doing a good job when I hear a lot of cardboard rubbing in the back of the plane,” he said.

Those working to save the turtles say every bit of help they can give is worth it.

“Personally I spend a lot of my time doing this and the network spends a lot of their time doing this because we all believe that this does make a difference,” said Sampson, the Noaa turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator. “These are an endangered species, we have to do all we can to help recover their population.”

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