Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saving Sea Turtles by James R. Spotila

Extraordinary Stories from the Battle Against Extinction

James Spotila conducts a worldwide study into what is causing the decrease in sea turtles throughout the world.  Going beyond just what is causing it, though, he carefully explicates why the decline is so important to all living things.

The biggest curiosity seems to be "what loggerheads are doing...during their oceanic stage."  Scientists can study what happens at each end of their journey, but not everyone agrees about what is happening en route.  They know that turtles in the western Pacific are declining, but due to what?  This mystery heightens the risk the turtles already face on land.

For example, dogs, raccoons, birds, coatis, crabs, and crocodiles all are known predators near shore and in nesting areas. Humans have a surprisingly huge impact as well, in two ways.  One is that real estate near the nesting areas is deemed more worthy than the marine habitat, so new homes and new pets, as well as pollution and traffic, all get closer to the areas essential to turtles for laying eggs. 

"My man does not need turtle eggs.
Because he knows they don’t make him more potent,”
says the caption.

Beyond that, turtle eggs are sought by many for consumption.  Turtle eggs placed in beer allegedly increases sexual stamina, a sort of Viagra for men in South and Latin America.  Cantinas can charge a great deal for the perk, so looting is common in the endangered habitats where sea turtles lay their eggs.  One conservation group launched a publicity campaign with an Argentinian model to discourage the practice, only to be shut down by women's groups offended by the scantily-clad model.

Turtle eggs are also used in baking, and a quick Google search yields many recipes.  Apparently, turtle eggs make a fluffier cake.  In Malaysia, 90% of turtle eggs are harvested by people for these reasons.

Global warming is suspected as another reason for the decline.  One reason is that the sex of the turtle is determined by how hot the egg gets during incubation.  Hotter beaches mean an increase in egg temperature that produces more females than males.  Less males mean that even if the turtles are healthy, they can't always reproduce.  Global warming also effects the food supply that the turtles depend on.

The book is a fascinating read, with many anecdotal examples.  The big shocker in it, though, has to be where the author promotes nuclear power as a way to avoid CO2 emissions, especially in India and China.  Given what has happened in Japan after this book went to press, that solution may not go over well.

Special thanks to Johns Hopkins University Press for the Review Copy.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review. It sounds a bit like a cross between Fire in the Turtle House and Animals Investigations. Both good books but very different. One is about the decline in turtles and the other is about the forensic science lab associated with the wildlife and how it is used to find illegal trade in wildlife.

    I might have to pick this one up.