5/23/08

World Turtle Day / Interfering with nature's course

According to The Center for Biological Diversity today is World Turtle Day. Please recognize.


The Center for Biological Diversity works through science, law, and creative media to secure a future for all species, great or small, hovering on the brink of extinction.

They also put out a very nice e-newsletter which I suggest subscribing to. I was thinking World Turtle Day would focus on the plight of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (a threatened specie since 1978.) However the CBD is focusing on commercial trapping of turtles in the U.S. From their press release:

Unregulated commercial trappers are capturing appalling numbers of freshwater turtles in southern states, including rare map turtle species that are so depleted they may need protection under the Endangered Species Act,“ said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. ”Collectors could legally harvest every non-protected turtle that exists in the wild under the inadequate regulations that currently exist in Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma. These turtles are an important part of aquatic ecosystems and should not be allowed to be wiped out.

Most wild turtles harvested in the southern United States are exported to supply food markets in Asia, primarily China, which has depleted or driven most of its native freshwater turtles to extinction in the wild. Numerous southeastern turtles are sold to Asian seafood markets in the United States as well. Many of these turtles are harvested from streams under state and federal fish advisories and bans that caution against and prohibit human consumption, due to aquatic contaminants that are carcinogenic or harmful to humans such as DDT, PCBs, pesticides, mercury and other heavy metals. Turtles live longer and bioaccumulate considerably greater amounts of aquatic contaminants than fish, particularly snapping and softshell turtles that burrow in contaminated sediments.


map turtle

Years ago I encountered a sea turtle in a bay off of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a wee infant. Stuck in a boat launch area and surrounded by 7 year old girls who would pick the turtle up, coo with glee and place her back in the water where the waves continued to smash her into the wooden dock. I watched her try to swim with her tiny flippers out of the launching area which was sectioned off from the bay by a wooden wall in the water. The water was more turbulent here because it was not allowed to flow freely. As the water crashed around under the dock feeling for a way out it took the little turtle with it, always returning her to be thrown against the wall. It was difficult to watch. One of the girls picked up the turtle and placed her in my hand. She was exquisite. It felt so lucky to be having an encounter with such a creature. Sea turtles look like they are wearing eye makeup.

I said to the group of girls "Don't you think we should put her over there, into the bay? She doesn't seem to be able to swim out of this area and she keeps getting smashed against the wall."

"But she's SO tiny and the bay is SO big." One girl worried "She's safe here, something will eat her out there." Another girl put her foot down "My mother said to not bother nature. She said I could pick up the turtle but I had put it back exactly where I found it. We better leave it here" These were difficult statements to argue with. I too don't think you should interfere with nature and appreciated that a young kid felt so strongly about it. I too worried how the tiny creature could survive in open water. I put the turtle back where they found her , she was thrown against the wall again. I exclaimed and I picked her back up.

The tribe of girls, I knew, considered themselves the protectors of the turtle since they had found it. I felt I had to convince them before I could move the turtle. "She belongs out at sea", I said, "not here. You can see she keeps trying to get out but the waves are too strong. She might hurt her head crashing into the wall. Usually you shouldn't interfere with nature but she is stuck in something man-made so I think it is the right thing to do this time. I think if we want to save her we have to put her in the bay so she can swim out. I know she's small but I bet she can do it. " They quickly came around under the shared mission of saving the turtle's life.

We carried her out of the boating area and placed her into the open bay. The water was still and clear. She took off like a shot toward open water.

...

There is one time that I did interfere with nature that still makes me shiver. I was a teenager and watching TV after school when something caught my attention. There was a large spiderweb across our living room window (on the outside) it had been there for some time. A good sized moth had become stuck on the web and was struggling and fluttering for dear life. I looked on in horror and had a mounting urge to free the moth. My brother sensing this tells me to leave it alone, it's nature. I try. But the moth just doesn't give up and I can't just sit and watch. I jump up and run to the porch. My brother gets very upset. He screams at me through the window not to interfere with nature. His words get to me. I agree with him, but by standing idly by I feel like a participator in the killing. I no longer knoww what is wrong and what is right.

Now the spider is coming. I reach out and try to tap the moth from the web. "Don't do it! Don't do it!" I can hear my brother yelling but it sounds like I'm hearing him from underwater. My finger touches the web, the moth's slowing wings beat against it twice and my whole being is overcome with the sense that what I am doing is completely wrong. Similar to when I got shocked on the electric fence around my aunt's horse pasture the feeling coursed through my whole body. I was filled with guilt and wrongness. I pulled my finger back and went inside, avoiding the living room.

...

My dad recently told me a story that has been haunting me. He ran into a duck hunter who related this story hoping other people would learn from his mistake. (FYI: Part of a hunting dog's job is to retrieve what the hunter has shot. If you shoot a duck your dog will run/swim out to retrieve it. That is what it has been trained to do.) So this guy is out with his dog and sees a raccoon swimming. He thinks about how raccoons eat duck's eggs, etc. and that they are competition for him. So- he shoots at the swimming raccoon. His dog takes off after the shot and swims out to get the raccoon. Except when he gets there the raccoon puts up a fight. This guy watched as the raccoon climbs on his dog's head and drowns him. Oh my god, he thinks, I just killed my own dog.


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