Saturday, November 14, 2009

Is Global Warming Killing Turtles?

"Turtles Are Casualties of Warming in Costa Rica" is the title of a recent New York Times article.

Reporters and environmentalists and climate-change-deniers all like to cherry-pick evidence to support their article or point of view. Hotter than average summer? Must be global warming! Cooler than average summer? Global warming must be bunk! Leatherback turtles dying? Global Warming! Atlantic turtles thriving? See! Not Global Warming!

They're all wrong, of course. Nature is usually complicated and messy.

Anyway, back to the turtles: as usual, the headline is more sensationalistic than the article. The article says:
...haphazard development, in tandem with warmer temperatures and rising seas that many scientists link to global warming, have vastly diminished the Pacific turtle population.
I agree that the headline "Turtles Are Casualties of Development and Maybe Warming" isn't as catchy. The article goes on to talk about how turtle nesting habitat is being destroyed by hotels and increasing population and how people used to freely dig up the nests and eat the eggs (and still do, illegally).

Maybe my contrarian-bias is shining through, but a little research into how global warming will affect leatherback turtle habitat made me more optimistic about the turtles' chances:
We used long-term satellite telemetry to define the habitat utilization of this species. We show that the northerly distribution limit of this species can essentially be encapsulated by the position of the 15°C isotherm and that the summer position of this isotherm has moved north by 330 km in the North Atlantic in the last 17 years. Consequently, conservation measures will need to operate over ever-widening areas to accommodate this range extension.
-- Thermal niche, large-scale movements and implications of climate change for a critically endangered marine vertebrate
It seems like the authors of this paper are taking a very positive piece of news (that global warming is expanding the range of an endangered sea turtle) and putting a negative spin on it (conservation efforts will have to be spread out over a larger area).

They probably didn't want the Wall Street Journal to run an article with the headline "Turtles Benefit from Global Warming."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, you do have "contrarian bias" and I applaud your candor for recognizing that it's a bias.

I think that it's also known by the word "perversity".