BOOKS: Sea Turtles of the World
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:
Sea Turtles of the World by Doug Perrine
Voyageur Press (123 N. 2nd St., Stillwater, MN 55082), 2003.
144 pages, 100 color photos, hardcover. $29.95.
The Voyageur Press standard of accuracy applies even to back
cover descriptions, to the point that improving on them can be
“Through vivid photographs and engaging text, Sea Turtles of
the World provides an in-depth look at the natural history and
conservation issues of these prehistoric-looking reptiles,” says the
back cover of this one, noting chapters on green sea turtles,
loggerheads, hawksbills, olive ridley and Kemp’s ridley turtles,
Australian flatbacks, and leatherbacks.
The only possible argument is that sea turtles are not just
prehistoric-looking. They are in fact prehistoric. Ancestral sea
turtles go back at least 200 million years, and many more varieties
have come and gone than are still with us.
The youngest sea turtle variety, the Kemp’s ridley,
apparently evolved in the Carribean from olive ridleys who were
trapped on the Atlantic side of the Ithmus of Panama after the
shallow sea passage that formerly separated North and South America
closed for the last time circa three million years ago.
That makes even Kemp’s ridley sea turtles markedly older than
humans, whose predation and pollution have pushed all sea turtles
far enough toward extinction that all are now globally protected, at
least on paper.
In truth, as author/photogapher Doug Perrine briefly
discusses, even some sea turtle conservation programs are
contributing to the extirpation of sea turtles from formerly
favorable habitat. The most conspicuous failures involve “regulated
harvests” intended to achieve “sustainable use,” by way of
preserving “cultural traditions” in parts of Malaysia and Mexico.
Allowing any legal traffic in sea turtle parts gives cover to
poachers, who inevitably quickly eradicate vulnerable populations in
the belief that others will poach any turtles or eggs left behind.
Consistent with the library-oriented Voyageur Press format,
Perrine provides only brief summaries of the many sea turtle-related
controversies in the U.S. and abroad, and omits more than passing
discussion of most of the personalities and organizations who have
made sea turtles a global issue. The late Archie Carr rates a
mention, but not Ila Loetscher, the late pioneer aviator who
“retired” in 1958 and for the next 40 years was the Turtle Lady of
Texas. She looked like a turtle, talked like a turtle, dressed
like a turtle, and was almost singlehandedly responsible for the sea
turtle protection program at Padre Island National Sea Shore.
Perrine notes that green sea turtle–who apparently grazed
ancient sea grass in vast herds like aquatic bison–have shifted
their feeding times in response to human predation, becoming
nocturnal where they are heavily hunted, but reverting to diurnal
feeding wherever they are not hunted.