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[NAIROBI] Climate change is threatening the existence of migratory species such as rare green turtles, heightening concern that tourism in poor countries may decline.

According to a UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) report released last week (16 November) at the climate change summit held in Nairobi, Kenya, rising temperatures change the ratio of male to female green turtles.

Pollution of beaches and rising sea levels threaten their breeding grounds, and more turtles are getting cancer as the waters warm, perhaps because infectious organisms can thrive more easily. 

UNEP's executive director, Achim Steiner, said the threats to biodiversity would have major setbacks on poverty eradication efforts.

"Managing biodiversity in a climatically changed world is of the highest economic importance in the fight against poverty," he added.

Achim explained that preserving wildlife habitats and reducing pollution is crucial to the economies of countries like Kenya, which earned US$700 million in foreign exchange earnings from tourism in 2005.

Kenyan officials say the entire green turtle population could be lost because of increased pollution, sedimentation along the Indian Ocean coastline and the construction of tourist facilities along the beaches.

The temperature of the beach where green turtles lay their eggs determines the sex of their young: higher temperatures lead to a greater number of females. Some beaches are increasingly hotter than 34 degrees centigrade, which can kill them.

The loss of migratory species is likely to affect the millions of people and countries whose livelihoods and national income depend on marine biodiversity.

"The losses would be massive," Godfrey Manor, Kenya's assistant director of fisheries, told SciDev.Net. He says biodiversity is important to tourism, but also as a source of food and income for fishermen.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the organisation charged with protecting wildlife and marine species in Kenya, agrees that threats to biodiversity in Kenya would lead to widespread losses in income from tourism.

"Almost 47 per cent of Kenya's tourism occurs in marine parks, earning the country US$352 million," a senior deputy director of KWS, who asked to remain anonymous, told SciDev.Net.