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Environment has good signs, too

June 30, 2008

by Roz Kohls

There’s a new movie out called “The Happening,” by M. Night Shyamalan, that has an environmental theme. I haven’t seen the movie, but I heard it’s about trees and vegetation fighting back against the human race, and the humans’ environmental degradation of the planet.

The negative effects humans are having on the earth are greatly exaggerated, though. There is good news, too.

For the first time since the 1930s, federal biologists confirmed a leatherback sea turtle nesting on a Texas beach at the Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi.

On June 6, a beach patrol found turtle tracks and a few exposed eggs. The eggs and the width of the tracks, more than six feet across, were examined by a park biologist and determined to be from a leatherback, according to Andrew Revkin in the June 12 Dot Earth of The New York Times.

Leathernecks used to be so common that when looking down into the water of tropical or subtropical seas, their leathery backs resembled cobblestones on the ocean floor. Now, they are one of the planet’s most imperiled species.

The crash of the Pacific leatherback population is attributed to humans eating turtle eggs and meat, according to the north Florida field office of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Other factors threatening the giant turtles are lost of nesting habitat, disorientation of hatchlings by beach front lighting, marine pollution and tackle, and watercraft strikes.

Leatherback turtles don’t have shells like other sea turtles do. Their backs are covered by thick, black, leathery skin. They are the largest turtles in the world, reaching more than 6 feet and weighing more than 1,000 pounds. Their diet consists almost entirely of jellyfish.

They also are the most migratory and wide-ranging of all sea turtles. Remember in the animated feature “Finding Nemo,” the lead fish characters ride along with some migrating sea turtles? Other than the hilarious “surfer” dialect spoken by the turtles, that was a fairly accurate depiction of a leatherback migration.

Up until this good news from Texas, leatherbacks have been known to nest in four spots in the United States, with about 40 females a year laying eggs on beaches along the east coast of Florida. A few more have been nesting in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. There is recent evidence of nesting in North Carolina, as well.

Many new technologies have been developed to protect not only the leatherback turtles, but also much of the rest of the natural environment. Let’s knock off all the gloom-and-doom talk. It’s not all bad.