IS THE SECRET TO SAVING SEA TURTLES?
June 19, 2011
read this statement in a book: "We no longer have the luxury of eating
sea turtles and their eggs, of making jewelry out of their shells and
leather out of their skin." According to the author, too many humans
populate the earth for sea turtles to ever again be harvested in a sustainable
The plight of the seven species of sea turtles alive in the world today
is set forth by James R. Spotila in a 216-page book, "Saving Sea
Turtles" (2011, Johns Hopkins University Press). The book's subtitle
is "Extraordinary Stories from the Battle against Extinction."
Spotila provides accounts of various environmental threats sea turtles
have faced. Myriad problems that threaten the very survival of individual
turtles and some species can be attributed to humans, including poachers,
developers and politicians. Many of Spotila's stories relate how other
humans, including conservation biologists, sea turtle ecologists and politicians,
have intervened to save these magnificent creatures of the sea from destruction.
writes in an easy, highly readable style, without the flowery emotional
flourishes that some sea turtle enthusiasts resort to. He lets the facts
tell the story. The book is well organized, with the first chapter addressing
the status of sea turtles in the modern world and pointing out the contemporary
problems they face. He identifies the challenge that every sea turtle
faces from the outsetto successfully hatch from an egg laid on a
beach. In one part of the first chapter he focuses on turtle egg poachers.
He refers to the poachers as people with "an undersized heart."
Poachers will steal eggs right out of a nest on the beach where a turtle
biologist is doing a study. This practice is no longer an "I need
food for my family" operation; it is commerce. For example, the author
caught a poacher one night in Costa Rica with almost 500 sea turtle eggs.
"Guess he had a big family," Spotila says.
chapter, "Life in the Egg: Buried Alive under Two Feet of Sand,"
goes through the vital steps of how an embryo develops within the egg
until it hatches. The book explains the importance of temperature in determining
the sex of a baby turtle and what besides small-hearted poachers are threats
to nests. The remaining chapters are in life cycle order, from hatchlings
racing to the sea, to life as a juvenile turtle, to the adult female returning
to a beach to nest.
the book uses examples of leatherback sea turtles, the largest turtles
in the world and the species Jim Spotila has fought tirelessly to save
from annihilation. These giants are so large that if one were stood on
end in a normal-size room, the turtle's head would poke through the ceiling.
These enormous turtles have been known to travel into the ice-cold waters
of polar seas, indicating that they can survive at least short periods
of freezing weather. They may then travel to the equator and nest on a
tropical beach. The hazards they facefrom an egg on a beach where
people and predators roam, to a hatchling swimming past sharks in an ocean,
to a nesting female trying to find a safe beach to crawl ontoare
many. But the primary threat to all sea turtles are not natural conditions
around the world that the species have successfully navigated through
for millions of years. The principal threat comes from people, as detailed
many times in this book.
capture the essence of how dedicated people must be involved to carry
out a sustainable effort to conserve this identifiable group of species.
By writing a book about what is involved in saving sea turtles, Jim Spotila
has augmented his own already substantial efforts by helping keep the
conservation process alive. Sea turtles may never be a sustainable resource
that can be harvested, but the author shows that with the right attitudes
we can at least ensure they will be around for us to enjoy for decades
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