TURTLES SEND A MESSAGE
by Whit Gibbons
March 23, 2008
find out all manner of things by reading T-shirts these days. In Toronto
recently I learned: "There are eight species of turtles in Ontario.
Six are at risk of vanishing forever." Not everything you read on
a T-shirt is funny.
I was attending
the Turtle Stewardship and Management Workshop hosted by the Toronto Zoo.
The heroes of the conference were the 200 dedicated Canadians who gave
talks, attended meetings, or otherwise supported the conference. These
people are dedicated to saving their eight species of turtles. If any
of the species do go extinct, these turtle activists will make sure that
the turtle destroyers are identified and put in the spotlight of public
scrutiny. These are the kind of advocates it takes to get the attention
of the public and government officials in Canada. They are the same kind
of people who promote environmental awareness and protection in the States.
states are a lot warmer than southern Canada and have even more kinds
of turtles. But the problems facing them are the same. Turtles are vanishing
at an alarming rate from Canada, the Southeast, the entire world. Many
people do not want to hear that turtles face the same problems, especially
environmental pollution and habitat destruction, as other wildlife in
today's overpopulated world. Pollution and habitat degradation are sad
by-products of what is billed as economic progress. When such progress
is achieved without regard for North America's wildlife and natural habitatsor
for the people who care about themI am not sure it can properly
be called "progress." An additional threat to turtles is overharvesting.
Southeastern states have become the targets of turtle trappers who move
in and remove literally tons of turtles from the wild to be shipped and
sold to Chinese and other Asian markets.
are required to develop successful conservation programs that protect
turtles or any other type of wildlife. First, ecologists must conduct
the scientific research necessary to document what the basic environmental
requirements of the target organism are and how human activities are affecting
their biology. The Canadian scientists and educators at the Toronto conference
pointed out two of the major problems for their turtles. Foremost on the
list was insensitive commercial development of wetland habitat and environmental
pollution resulting from unregulated industries, agriculture, and urbanization.
Road mortalities due to excessive highway construction are also a concern.
The same two issues are commonly cited problems in the United States.
step is for turtle ecologists to educate John and Jane Q. Public about
the problems confronting wildlife species. But the "public"
also includes other ecologists, conservation biologists, and land managersincluding
in the United States those associated with state parks and natural resource
departments, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest
Service, and similar agencies that are supposed to be stewards of our
natural resources. Another important audience is elected officials, who
are ostensibly representing the people.
step in a successful conservation program is for policy makers to listen
objectively and act in accordance with what they learn. Scientists, conservation
biologists, and state and federal land managers can be expected to do
that. The response of elected officials is more problematic. Some simply
do not care what the data reveal. They exemplify a saying you might see
on a T-shirt: "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with the facts."
A wise and educated Jane and John Q. Public would vote such individuals
out of office. And astute politicians would be listening and would understand
that the majority of their constituents want to protect wildlife and natural
resources and are opposed to unregulated degradation of land and water.
T-shirt sported two numbers: 8, for existing species of turtles, and 6,
for those at risk of going extinct. A comparable T-shirt in South Carolina,
Florida, Georgia, or Alabama would have the following numbers: 21, 25,
27, 30 and 13, 17, 19, and 21. That second number should send an urgent
message to policy makers and the people who vote for them. That's too
many kinds of turtles to see vanish before our eyes.
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