(Gainesville, Florida) Global warming is expected to cause
entire ecosystems to change, with a slow poleward migration of
species. Now, researchers are finding that the slowest-moving
species are providing the earliest signals of global warming.
"Just as some animals can sense the approach of a storm or the
imminence of an earthquake, turtles are providing an early
warning sign of global warming," explained Prof. Steven
Snapper of the State University of New Jersey. "Since
turtles are so slow moving, they need a 'head start'
in their species migration, providing a ten to twenty year longer
lead time in the anticipation of future global temperatures
than any other species".
The turtle's migratory habits are tracked with tiny
radio transmitters with long-life batteries. "Snails
actually give even greater lead times, up to 50 years, since they migrate
much more slowly than turtles, but our radio transmitters
bog them down too much", said Prof. Snapper.
Professor Harmony Green of the Center for Sea Turtle
Research at the University of Florida agreed, adding,
"We also see analogous behavior in sea turtles. These
turtles are making their nests at higher and higher
points on the beach, farther above sea level, in apparent
anticipation of future sea level rise from global warming."
Reports of tropical turtle sightings far from their original
habitats continue to pour into turtle research centers around
the world. In one startling discovery, a Michigan mother
found her young daughter playing with what turned out to be a
Brazilian radiolated swamp turtle in their back yard.
The turtle had apparently traveled thousands of miles before being discovered.
"These migrating turtles are at great risk, since they
have to cross so many roads and interstate highways without
being struck by cars", explained Prof. Green. "We are
trying to inform the public to be aware of turtles
crossing the roads, especially if they are traveling in a northward direction."
Prof. Green also said that a number of states are now
considering adding turtle crossing signs in areas of frequent
turtle sightings. A more expensive option being considered by California
is the digging of 'turtle tunnels' under road beds in those areas to
provide greater safety for the migrating turtles.
Both researchers report that turtle watching clubs are springing
up all over the United States. The turtle watchers know the approximate dates
on which the first turtles arrive in their areas. Up to a hundred
people have gathered at a time, binoculars in hand, anxiously waiting
the first sighting of the season, which is then usually celebrated
with a party, at which many adult beverages are consumed.
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