Wildlife

Climate change strands sea turtles on Cape Cod shores

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.

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Reindeer now smaller and lighter due to climate change

Reindeer herders in Finnish Lapland are concerned their prized animals are getting smaller because of climate change.

Finland’s reindeer population reaches 200,000 in the wintertime with around 1,500 herders relying on them for their livelihood, breeding Santa’s favourite animal for its meat, milk and fur. They are also a major tourist attraction with 300,000 people visiting the area annually for sleigh rides.

But climate change in the region — mean temperatures in Lapland have increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 150 years — make it harder for reindeer to graze on their food as warmer winters mean more rain. Reindeer can’t dig the lichen from the ground through the ice.

Research conducted over 20 years on Norway’s Svalbard archipelago found that although reindeer numbers had doubled, their size and weight had decreased — mostly due to greater competition for food. The survey, released in 2016 by the James Hutton Institute, found that adult reindeers born in 1994 weighed 55kg while those born in 2012, weighed 48kg.

Meanwhile, the number of caribous or wild reindeer in the Arctic region has decreased by more than 50% since the mid-1980s, according to a report released earlier this month by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The study found that “climate indicators accounted for 54% of the variability in vital rates.”

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