Yesterday “Turtle: The Incredible Journey” opened at the Regal Union Square in NYC and theaters around the country (schedule information is here: http://www.turtle-film.com/). Although I have grown inured to movie industry hype over the years, this is one incredible journey. Documenting the life cycle of a loggerhead turtle that lives nearly its entire life under water and that has been extant as a species for 200 million years, this film will fill you with awe and wonder whether you are six years old or sixty-six like me.
The movie begins on a beach in Florida with hatchlings coming out of their eggs and making a perilous journey of about fifty feet into the water. Those that can get to first base, avoiding becoming a meal for a sand crab or a seagull on the beach, are on the first leg of an odyssey that takes them tens of thousands of miles across the Atlantic and back.
Every key stage in the life of a female loggerhead turtle that is the heroine of this this amazing documentary is described in virtually poetic terms by actress Miranda Richardson. Her voice-over spells out the powerful conjunction of instinct and fortune that allows one in perhaps one thousand creatures to survive. Although they are at home in the sea, they have to contend with animals higher up on the food chain, including sharks. Sadly the biggest threats they face nowadays are man-made.
The young loggerhead turtle must find a way to reach the Gulf Stream that leads to the Sargasso Sea, a vast segment of the Atlantic Ocean that provides a kind of nursery for the turtle and other fledgling sea creatures. They attach themselves to a weed that pervades the water called the Sargassum that they can feed on for years, as well as the small fish that are attracted to it as well.
Once they have become adolescents, they move on instinctually in search of more substantial food off the Azore Islands in the middle of the Atlantic. There they become the awesome animal that reigns at the top of the food chain, even above the shark. Reaching over four hundred pounds and with a rock-hard shell and punishing beak, they fear nothing. The only thing that stands in their way until they return to the Caribbean to spawn is homo sapiens. Like the dolphin, the loggerhead is vulnerable to industrial fishing boats. It also falls victim to the nearly 24,000 metric tons of plastic dumped into the ocean each year. The turtles often mistake the floating plastic for jellyfish, a common food item and die from toxins.
Although the film identifies such hazards, it is much more of a celebration of the life of these amazing animals. Like the honeybee that has been around for 150 million years, the notion that such a sublime creature is threatened by extinction is enough to make any socially aware person get a rocket launcher and retaliate—to use the words of Bruce Cockburn.
Just by coincidence, but one that has been gestating for the better part of fifty years, the movie debuts in the same week that the looming threat to sea life was reported on the front page of major newspapers.
The tie between the movie and the bad news was fairly explicit in the graphic that accompanied a June 21 San Francisco Chronicle article.
A 100-pound loggerhead turtle is returned to the ocean in Florida, and, according to a dire warning issued by a group of international scientists, may find an inhospitable environment.
Dire forecast of marine life catastrophe
The world’s oceans are degenerating far faster than predicted and marine life is facing extinction due to a range of human impacts – from overfishing to climate change – a report compiled by international scientists warned Tuesday.
The cumulative impact of “severe individual stresses,” ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification to widespread chemical pollution and overfishing, would threaten the marine environment with a catastrophe “unprecedented in human history.”
The conclusions were published by a panel of international scientists who reviewed recent research at a workshop at Oxford University in Britain. They will be presented to the United Nations in New York this week for discussions on reforming governance of the oceans.
The report warned that damage to marine life would harm its ability to support humans, and that entire ecosystems, such as coral reefs, could be lost in a generation. Coral deaths alone would be considered a mass extinction, according to study chief author Alex Rogers of Oxford University. A single bleaching event in 1998 killed one-sixth of the world’s tropical coral reefs.
Carl Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the International Program on the State of the Ocean, pointed to deaths of 1,000-year-old coral in the Indian Ocean and called the situation “really unprecedented.”
Chemicals and plastics from daily life are also causing problems for sea creatures, the report said. Overall, the world’s oceans just can’t bounce back from problems – such as oil spills – as they used to, scientists said.
“Unless action is taken now, the consequences of our activities are at a high risk of causing, through the combined effects of climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, the next globally significant extinction event in the ocean,” it said.
The marine scientists called for a range of urgent measures to cut carbon emissions, reduce overfishing, shut unsustainable fisheries, create protected areas in the seas and cut pollution.
“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realized,” Rogers said. “This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level.”
A separate study released Monday provided the most detailed look yet of sea level rise from global warming. It found the world’s oceans have been rising significantly over the past century. The yearly rise is slightly less than one-tenth of an inch, but it adds up over decades. That study was published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.