Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Turtles have survived from the Dinosaur era

After listening to Lindsay Maxim from the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre on Fresh Air I was reminded of an earlier interest in turtles.  Like many youngsters I had a few pet turtles that all died prematurely.  My brother Marshall combined turtles with salamanders and we noticed that the salamanders kept losing their tails. Unfortunately, as is all too common we really didn't know how to take care of pet turtles.

Kawartha Trauma Centre was encountered in my travels as a salesman to veterinarians and pet stores. One of the clinics had initiated rescuing turtles after being inspired by youngsters and that action evolved into a provincial project.  An early project was signage to warn motorists on where turtles liked to cross the highway.  Turtles don't move very fast and are often difficult to see, so the result is a lot get hit.  As the shells are really bones many can heal if given the opportunity.

The odds of survival are bleak  something like 1% of eggs hatch and survive--the number of eggs obviously is part of their survival plan, but they do not increase their eggs when faced with a declining survival rate.

Turtles were recognizable 157 million years ago.  They breathe air, but lay their eggs on land.  The gender of the hatchlings are determined by temperature with hotter temperature increasing the number of females.  Mankind does not fully understand how different wild creatures fit into our ecology, but sea turtles are one of the few animals to eat sea grass which allows them to form a sea floor instead of just growing longer blades.  This is a breeding environment for many other aquatic animals.  Turtles commonly lay their eggs on sandy beaches.  The nutrition in the unhatched, abandoned eggs is one of the few sources proteins that allow dune vegetation to develop and in turn helps minimize erosion.

The greatest danger to turtles is the destruction of their habitat.  They live in wetlands.  As housing spreads more and more of their natural habitat is covered.   Climate change and pollution are a threat to turtles.  As the sea rises turtles will find it more difficult to find their ancestral egg nesting locations.  A rise in temperature could change the gender mix of the hatchlings.  Pollution of course amounts to poison for animals that (as suggested by Naomi Klein) can affect fertility.

Each species fits into the environment in ways we do not understand while we carelessly ignore them. An interesting feature of turtles is that apparently their organs do not deteriorate the way of most creatures (including humans).  Understanding their longevity better could benefit people.

If you have come across an injured wild turtle in Ontario call 1-705-741-5000.  Volunteers can give instructions of how to pick up a turtle and forward them to the Trauma Centre through 12 centres across Ontario.  To learn more you can go to their website is http://kawarthaturtle.org/  They are concerned with education and conservation as well as treatment.  Many other parts of the world have turtle rescue organizations.

The photo is actually from a visit to Cuba in Jossone Park at Veradero.  I ended up buying one of my favourite T shirts in Cuba with an emblazoned turtle.

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