Predicting Vulnerability of Southeastern Sea Turtle Nesting Beaches to Climate Change

Kristen Hart
Posted on: 7/18/2022 - Updated on: 5/16/2023

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The loggerhead sea turtle, found in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, is divided into nine distinct populations—five of which are federally endangered and four of which are federally threatened. Unfortunately, climate change may be putting the species at further risk. Sea-level rise, increased storm frequency, and changes in temperature and humidity could reduce the suitability of habitat used by loggerheads and other endangered sea turtles for nesting and feeding.
This project assessed the vulnerability of key sea turtle nesting beaches to climate change in the Southeast. Researchers examined previous records of sea turtle nesting locations in the Southeast to identify the characteristics of these beaches, then predicted the future suitability of these beaches for nesting based on projected climate change. Beaches on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are expected to be very susceptible to change associated with sea-level rise, making it imperitive that we understand how these changes will affect the suitability of nesting sites.
The results of this work can be used to directly inform federal recovery efforts for the loggerhead sea turtle. Identifying locations where beach habitat will no longer be suitable for nesting will help managers determine what action needs to be taken to protect loggerheads, such as moving nests out of highly vulnerable areas. Further, some of the nesting beaches used by loggerheads are also used by other endangered sea turtles, such as the Kemp’s ridley, green, and leatherback sea turtles. Therefore, this project represents a vulnerability assessment of coastal nesting habitat for multiple species of national conservation concern.


Sea-level rise, increased storm frequency, and altered temperature and humidity associated with climate change may reduce the suitability of nesting and foraging habitats used by federally threatened and endangered species, such as the loggerhead sea turtle. The goal of this project was to produce a vulnerability assessment of coastal habitats representing important nesting grounds for loggerhead and other endangered sea turtles (e.g. Kemp’s ridleys, green turtles, and leatherbacks). This project built upon work already being done to develop vulnerability maps under a number of current and future climate scenarios. These maps will provide management guidance and will serve to identify knowledge and data gaps as primary sources of uncertainty.

Project Products:


  • Kristen M Hart, David G Zawada, Ikuko Fujisaki, and Barbara H Lidz, 2013-05, Habitat use of breeding green turtles Chelonia mydas tagged in Dry Tortugas National Park: Making use of local and regional MPAs: Biological Conservation.
  • Kristen M. Hart, Margaret M. Lamont, Autumn R. Sartain, Ikuko Fujisaki, and Brail S. Stephens, 2013-07-03, Movements and Habitat-Use of Loggerhead Sea Turtles in the Northern Gulf of Mexico during the Reproductive Period: PLOS ONE, v. 8, iss. 7.

Affiliated Organizations

The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.

To provide scientific information, tools, and techniques to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change.

Climate and land cover change alter important physical processes, such as temperature, precipitation, streamflow, and sea-level. Changes in these processes affect terrestrial and aquatic organisms that provide important ecological services to society. The potentially large consequences of these changes highlight the need to develop effective conservation strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate and landscape change.

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