No, you can’t keep one for a pet-they’re endangered. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of preserving one of our oldest friends.
In the 1950’s, Archie Carr brought the importance of protecting this animal to the forefront of conservationists with his book, THE WINDWARD ROAD. Movements to study and help preserve them have increased, but there is more to be done.
Sea turtles have provided a food source for early man since he roved the Ocean Blue. During the Age of Sail, sailors used them as a meal staple when rations ran low. The green gelatinous meat was used for a stew, or “turtle soup,” and was considered a delicacy all over the world. Coastal populations often depended on them, and their eggs, to survive. Turtle shells were made into jewelry, and even oils found a use. That was then, but not too much has changed for these gentle swimmers although society in general has surpassed these needs.
Although some cultures still hunt turtles to the early stages of decline, evidence shows that sea turtles are in the greatest danger from environmental pollution, beach development, and climate shifts. Ingesting garbage, razing nesting beaches for public use, and increased climate temperatures that effect sexual development while in the egg, are some ways our wise old friends continue to be threatened.
Why bother with these gentle creatures? Sea turtles are among the oldest living animals, tracing back to when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. With the potential to live even longer than humans, they provide ecological services by eating things such as sea grasses, which must be maintained to sustain all manner of fish and other species. And don’t forget their diet of jellyfish! Most importantly, their numbers provide a good accounting of what is happening to our oceans-the temperatures, the pollutions, and overfishing.
My first time experiencing a sea turtle in the wild occurred several years ago off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. I was moved to tears by the magnificent beauty of the young green sea turtle that swam up along side us in the surf that day. I later took the opportunity to go snorkeling in a sea turtle preserve off the island of St. Thomas. There are no words to describe the majestic experience of seeing a large adult green sea turtle (up to six feet!!) beneath the waves, rise past you to take some air. There is a gentleness and wisdom in their eyes that is beyond description. The things they must see, experience, and know from their long sojourns of life at sea, would be a story to treasure.
Conservation opportunities are available all over the world. Besides being aware of our influence on the environment when we are outdoors (Leave No Trace), there are many organizations always in need of volunteers and donations. Some, like the Caribbean Conservation Corporation (http://www.cccturtle.org/), even offer the opportunity to adopt a sea turtle and track him, for a very low fee.
So remember your green friends when talk turns to the importance of protecting our planet. If you’re lucky like me, one may just swim by some day and thank you.
Author of THE PRIVATEER and the coming soon release, TURTLE SOUP.