By Barbara Whitman I know I was supposed to write a dirty story about corals this week, but I wanted to share something.” The sea this week was very rough.” I had to get my boat off the mooring and bring it to shore so I could get it ready for my snorkel trip but the rope was tangled around the buoy chain and somehow the anchor rope had blown overboard and was pretzeled along with it.” I struggled underwater straining to see the tangled lines as the surge washed me back and forth under the boat in water the quality of coffee grounds.” I had flashes of Tarzan in a death roll with a crocodile facing near death and wondering if my last breath of air would be just before the seas trapped me under the boat obliterating the meek light eking out between the clouds of a grey sky. I decided it might be more prudent, although more expensive, to just cut the ropes and (reluctantly) go buy some new ones.” As I braved the heave and pitch of the sea and headed back to aquarium to get a knife I noticed some fishermen waiting in their boat at one of the moorings.” They were closer so I finned over and asked to borrow a knife.” They gave me one that looked like a butter knife and I mentioned that I wanted to cut some ropes and could it do the job.” They indulgently indicated the affirmative and off I went. Back at the mooring I proceeded to cut the ropes and almost my finger with the razor sharp blade.” I”d almost lost my finger a few weeks before when it got caught between the boat and the descending motor and I imagined the look on Dr. George’s face when I showed up back in the emergency room with yet another finger dangling from my hand.” I made a resolution to be VERY careful.” Besides, I was running out of fingers. When I swam back to the fishermen and handed back the knife that’s when I saw the large turtle swinging in a net from the side of their boat.” Now this is a very sensitive subject and I want to make something absolutely clear.” The practice of hunting turtles has gone on for centuries.” Turtle meat is incredibly tasty. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.” I had some back in the early 60s when everyone thought there were enough to last forever.)” AND the few turtles that individuals take for food for their families are not what put all sea turtles on the critically endangered list.” To top that off, it is turtle season and it is perfectly legal to take turtles.” I”ve only been working with sea turtles for nine years but I”ve developed an unbelievable affection for the little guys ” well some are pretty big.” The leatherback, the predominant sea turtle nesting on St. Kitts, can get to nine feet in length and weigh a ton.” Of course the hawksbill hatchlings (the species that most commonly nests on Nevis) in my tanks that were stranded during Hurricane Omar and are in my care until they can be released, are a little smaller even as adults at up to two hundred pounds and three feet long.” I love the little guys.” They are clumsy and latch on to each other’s fins by mistake as they lunge for their food.” I once put my finger into the tank to indicate where a food pellet was floating and all four of them came at it at once and crashed head first into each other when I removed my finger to avoid four tiny, sharp beaks.” There is just no end to the comedy in an aquarium. I also want it to be known that I have the greatest respect for the fishermen of this Federation.” They help me lug my boat out of the water, call me when they have a cool fish to put in the aquarium and donate food for my sea animals.” I have learned a lot from them.” As it so happened, these wonderful gentlemen helped me haul my boat above the high water mark so it wouldn’t float off on an adventure of its own.” They had to tie my boat to their truck to pull it up the last bit of the way and unfortunately they used the same rope the turtle was tied to and the turtle was dragged along.” Luckily it was on its back and uninjured but the sight unnerved me and I felt sad- and helpless. It was the same helpless feeling I had watching the US economy plummet due to the greed of a few.” Why were the insurance higher ups getting such huge salaries and why did we have to foot the bill?” Then I realized we, similarly, we must suffer the consequences of the few who exploited the desire for ‘tortoiseshell” products, built structures on nesting sites and stolen eggs? Somehow over the last century the global populations of sea turtles have dropped so much that sea turtles may actually drop off the face of the Earth.” They don’t mature until they are quite old, around 25, and scientists calculate that only one in a thousand survive to reproduce.” Many of their nesting sites are unusable now.” They get tangled in fishing nets, die from eating floating garbage and get diseases from a sickly sea. As I watched the green turtle haplessly skim backwards over the sand I wondered if I might turn this into something positive.” Exploit it, was the answer.” What!?” Sea turtles aren’t cuddly or furry, but children that come to the aquarium love them and tourists ask hopefully if we will see any on our snorkel.” The chance of seeing a sea turtle ranks right up there with a possible monkey sighting on a vacationer’s list.”” So keep the sea turtles alive and use them to attract people to the island.” It’s exploitation – but the kind that does no harm and could do a lot of good.
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