Distribution of global sea turtle nesting explained from regional-scale coastal characteristics

Jakob C. Christiaanse*, José A.A. Antolínez, Arjen P. Luijendijk, Panagiotis Athanasiou, Carlos M. Duarte, Stefan Aarninkhof

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change and human activity threaten sea turtle nesting beaches through increased flooding and erosion. Understanding the environmental characteristics that enable nesting can aid to preserve and expand these habitats. While numerous local studies exist, a comprehensive global analysis of environmental influences on the distribution of sea turtle nesting habitats remains largely unexplored. Here, we relate the distribution of global sea turtle nesting to 22 coastal indicators, spanning hydrodynamic, atmospheric, geophysical, habitat, and human processes. Using state-of-the-art global datasets and a novel 50-km-resolution hexagonal coastline grid (Coastgons), we employ machine learning to identify spatially homogeneous patterns in the indicators and correlate these to the occurrence of nesting grounds. Our findings suggest sea surface temperature, tidal range, extreme surges, and proximity to coral and seagrass habitats significantly influence global nesting distribution. Low tidal ranges and low extreme surges appear to be particularly favorable for individual species, likely due to reduced nest flooding. Other indicators, previously reported as influential (e.g., precipitation and wind speed), were not as important in our global-scale analysis. Finally, we identify new, potentially suitable nesting regions for each species. On average, 23 % of global coastal regions between - 39 and 48 latitude could be suitable for nesting, while only 7 % is currently used by turtles, showing that the realized niche is significantly smaller than the fundamental niche, and that there is potential for sea turtles to expand their nesting habitat. Our results help identify suitable nesting conditions, quantify potential hazards to global nesting habitats, and lay a foundation for nature-based solutions to preserve and potentially expand these habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number752
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2024, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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