Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davidson.
The Turtle House is an area in the narrow channel separating Maui from
the neighboring island of Moloka'i. Not surprisingly it is a haven for
sea turtles, especially the green sea turtle that the locals call honu.
And the honu are dying.
The book follows the search for the cause
of rampant spread of the disease called FP, most notably characterized
by the growth of tumors on the soft tissues of turtles. First noticed in
the 1960s, proliferating in the 70s, and clearly epidemic by the 80s,
FP has decimated green turtle populations in Hawai'i as well as in
Florida. Davidson visits with the key researchers, examines the
different investigations into the cause, and personalizes the scientific
struggle to understand. In the end the answers are still uncertain,
though viruses are clearly implicated, and dinoflagellate biotoxins,
human-caused stresses from pollution and nutrient enrichment, and other
factors also may be part of the complex genesis that spreads the
Overall this book is well written. It does seem to veer
off on tangents, such as stories about Stellar sea cows from a century
before, Pfeisteria-based fish diseases, and other sidetracks that
eventually are laced back into the turtle narrative with varying
success. On a personal note, it was interesting to see mention of names
like Archie Carr and Joanne Burkholder and others familiar to my own
marine biology days.
One drawback to the book is that it was
published in 2001 and thus is somewhat dated. It would be nice to know
where the status of the investigation, and hopefully treatment, of FP
stands now. Still, I would recommend this book for those who are
interested in learning how science works in the complex real world, and
how human factors can surreptitiously drive what appear to be nature
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