Sea Turtle Scientist
(Scientist in the Field series)
By Stephen R. Swinburne
80 pages; ages 10-14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
Leatherbacks have a tough life – only one egg out of a thousand will produce an adult sea turtle. Hatchlings no bigger than matchbox cars push themselves across the sand towards the ocean. If they’re lucky enough to make it without becoming a meal for some other animal, they’ve got more challenges in the sea.
In this book, Steve Swinburne takes readers to St. Kitts island, where Dr. Kimberly Stewart has spent her life studying the leatherback turtles. He takes you out into the field on a midnight search for nesting leatherbacks. There – in the red beam of Kimberly’s headlamp – it’s an 800-pound sea turtle.
“She shimmers as the last of the seawater runs off her huge frame,” writes Swinburne. “Facing away from the sea, the female leatherback uses her three-foot-long front flippers to throw sand.” Finally, after scooping a hole about 28-inches deep, the female leatherback begins to drop her eggs – “…wet, gleaming white eggs the size of billiard balls…” and one of the turtle-watchers races to count them. Meanwhile, another records measurements while Kimberly takes a blood sample and tags the female.
Swinburne fills the pages with photos – some of the nighttime field trip to tag the turtles – as well as turtle science, history, and an honest discussion of modern threats to the sea turtles. Fishing and habitat loss account for many deaths. Then there’s marine debris – like all that plastic that ends up in the ocean, and eventually in the stomach of a turtle. Swinburne also includes a profile of an unlikely turtle ally: a former turtle fisherman who now patrols the island and protects the turtles.
There are plenty of sidebars, a chapter on how a community came together to save the turtles, and even a list of “must-haves” for your Turtle-Watching Toolkit. Backmatter includes a glossary, advice on how to adopt a sea turtle, list of resources, and an index.
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