(WSVN) - A shocking discovery here in South Florida shows just how much danger sea turtles are in right now. The Nightteam’s Kevin Ozebek with 7 Investigates.
Filled with hundreds of sea turtle hatchlings swimming, floating and munching away, there is no other lab like this in the world.
Jeanette Wyneken, FAU biology professor: “When I was like 3 or 4, I wanted a pet dinosaur.”
But instead, Jeanette Wyneken’s mother gave her a pet turtle. A love affair was born and turned into a specific passion for sea turtles.
Jeanette Wyneken: “I mean, they got flippers! That’s just really cool!”
Jeanette is now doing groundbreaking research at the Florida Atlantic University Marine Lab in Boca Raton.
What she’s uncovering about these sea turtles is startling.
Jeanette Wyneken: “There are fewer and fewer males being produced. The turtles are telling us a story that is important.”
For nearly two decades, Jeanette has been recording the ratio of male to female loggerhead turtles hatched at beaches across the state.
In 2002, when she started, 87% of hatchlings were female. In the following years, Jeanette recorded even fewer males.
Then, in 2006, not a single male loggerhead hatchling was found.
Jeanette Wyneken: “My first reaction was, ‘Oh, that is not good. You need two to tango.'”
More recent data is even more alarming. Jeannette has found male hatchlings in only two of the past six years.
Jeanette Wyneken: “That’s not normal!”
Unlike humans, the sex of a turtle is determined by temperature.
Jeannette refers to the phenomenon as…
Jeanette Wyneken: “Hot chicks, cool dudes.”
For loggerheads, the ideal temperature for a nest under the sand is 85 degrees.
If it’s lower, you’re likely to get more male hatchlings. If it’s higher, you’re likely to get more female hatchlings, so Jeanette believes climate change is fueling the gender imbalance.
Jeanette Wyneken: “We have to fix the problem. If it’s too hot, it’s too hot, and recovering from too hot is really hard.”
Jeanette is also finding more female hatchlings in other species, like the Florida green sea turtle.
Jeanette Wyneken: “What happens in Florida drives the sex rations in all of the Atlantic– big deal.”
Kevin Ozebek: “So, the stakes are high?”
Jeanette Wyneken: “The stakes are high.”
They’re so high, she’s training a new generation of biologists to expand on her work.
Emily Turla, FAU grad student: “It’s pretty worrisome when you only get females because how are they supposed to reproduce without any males?”
It’s these young biologists who may be tasked with saving sea turtles from extinction.
Jeanette Wyneken: “It’s a long-term problem, so the problems we are seeing today are going to be manifest in 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now when the older males start to die out.”
Jeanette says they’ll still be swimming off our coast in her lifetime, but their future after that is now becoming murky.
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