Friday, August 5, 2011
Who will save the humans?
In 'Saving Sea Turtles', James Spotilla highlights the plight of the sea turtles across the world as they fight the possibility of extinction. Having survived all kinds of threats over their 110 million years of existence, the turtles like many other species met their match when humans rapidly colonized earth over the last two hundred years. With beaches being run over by 'modern' developments, oceans being over fished and polluted, and the effects of global warming taking its toll, it is no wonder that the turtles have hardly any way out. Hopefully the admirable efforts by conservationists like Mr.Spotilla and team would make some difference in the turtles' battle for survival.
In the book, Mr.Spotilla takes us through the life of the turtle - the science is explained very well - the egg laying behavior in the beach, development of the embryo, temperature dependent sex determination, hatching, hatchlings journey to the sea, life in the ocean and the return back to the beach (same beach if possible) to lay eggs and how the cycle of life continues. At each of these phases, their numbers get dramatically reduced by natural predators (which evolution has taught them to overcome) and by human activities which have grown at such a pace that evolutionary solutions have no chance of success. Under the pressure of conservationists groups, governments are trying to enforce a few protection measures but often end up giving in to the more powerful business interests whether it be the property developers or the fishing industry. Still protection efforts from Costa Rica to India are providing some relief to the turtles and Mr.Spotilla explains how every individual can in their own way make a difference in conservation efforts. At the same time it is also clear that we as a species still do not fully realize the dire impact of our activities on earth (the plight of the turtles is just one example) and it might be too late by the time we make a serious effort to change our behavior.
The objectives of the book are very laudable and there is no doubt about the author's knowledge and expertise. Whether it be turtle biology, oceanography, geology or global warming the fundamentals are explained very well, and their relevance to the issues mapped out properly. Turtle genomics is also covered - but too briefly I feel - I would have liked to get more insights that genomics has provided about the evolution of the turtle and what current research efforts are going on leveraging the Next Generation DNA Sequencing technologies. The only drawbacks of the book are the winding narrative and the numerous side stories. Written in first person and mixed with passive and active speech, it needs a considerable determination to read. And in many occasions the author's tendency to drift into too many minor details hampers the big picture and spoils the impact the great facts and the science in the book could deliver.