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HomeNewsArchivesSEA TURTLES HAVE AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY

SEA TURTLES HAVE AN IMPORTANT ROLE TO PLAY

Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge is home to leatherback turtle nesting areas. What most people do not know is that the leatherback is so decimated, 90 percent of the genetic diversity of the specie nests at the Sandy Point beaches. Can anyone imagine 90 percent of all human genetic diversity being found in one location? What if the location were Helena, Montana?
This information is important because sea turtles are vital to maintaining the balance in the ocean’s ecosystem. Why are leatherbacks important? They eat jellyfish.
Imagine going out for a swim in an ocean overpopulated with jellyfish; one would come back from a swim looking like a red ball.
This is important information for boaters as well. Our natural habitat, meaning we humans, is terrestrial. The evolution of an opposable thumb has done wonders for our ability to manipulate tools.
We also evolved a brain that is capable of devising tools that are only limited by our imagination. We now use boats to traverse the waters.
One of the problems with this evolution is that we have outstripped our fellow creatures so far that we have become master predator and, going by the laws of unintended consequences, masters of waste. We waste many times through ignorance. I speak first as a perpetrator of waste.
Christmas of last year, my family left one outside light on and awoke to a yard filled with dead leatherback hatchlings.
There I was, the executive director of an environmental association of all things, with a yard filled with dead endangered turtles. The light bulb, one of humanity’s little inventions caused by brainpower and thumbs, had attracted the turtles on a moonless night in December. But wait, are not
leatherbacks supposed to nest in the spring and hatch in the summer?
Something had gone wrong. I did not have all of the facts.
Without those facts, we are incapable of preventing waste. We must, therefore, assume that we all are ignorant of many facts if we are truly going to prevent the complete annihilation of sea turtles. When boating, we should assume that turtles might be near to the shore. When camping, we must not drive stakes where turtles may nest. Important for those of us who live near the shore – we should turn off outside lights at night.
We can continue to waste or we can begin to conserve. We must do our part individually to prevent the extinction of these vital sea turtles. There is much pressure from industrial waste, sewage and other effluents on the turtles already. We must not add to it.
Otherwise, we may just have to give up on the idea of swimming.

Editor's note: Bill Turner is a writer, a former history teacher and the executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association. He writes a daily commentary on events in the Virgin Islands that can be accessed at V.I. Buzz.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.
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