In many turtles, the temperature experienced during the middle of egg incubation determines the sex of the offspring. The implication of steroid sex hormones as the proximate trigger for sex determination opens the possibility that endocrine-disrupting contaminants may also influence the outcome of sexual differentiation. In this study we investigate the potential effects of DDE (a common DDT metabolite) on sexual differentiation of Chelonia mydas (green sea turtle). Four clutches of eggs collected from Heron Island, Queensland, Australia, were treated with DDE at the beginning of the thermosensitive period for sexual determination. An incubation temperature of 28 degrees C or less produces male hatchlings in this species, whereas 30 degrees C or more produces female hatchlings. Dosed eggs were consequently incubated at two temperatures (27.6 degrees C and 30.4 degrees C) on the upper and lower boundaries of the sex determination threshold for this species. DDE, ranging from 3.3 to 66.5 microg, was dissolved in 5, 10, and 25 microl ethanol and applied to eggshells above the embryo. Less than 2.5 ng/g DDE was present in eggs prior to dosing. Approximately 34% of the applied DDE was absorbed in the eggs, but only approximately 8% of applied DDE was found in embryos. Thus, treated eggs, corrected for background DDE, had up to 543 ng/g DDE. The sex ratio at these doses did not differ from what would be expected on consideration of temperature alone. Incubation time, hatching success, incidence of body deformities, hatching size, and weight were also within the limits of healthy developed hatchlings. This indicates that the eggs of C. mydas in the wild with concentrations of DDE less than 543 ng/g should produce hatchlings with relatively high hatching success, survival rate, and normally differentiated gonads.