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World Turtle Day
Making Slow Strides

World Turtle Day
  • The Gigantic Land Tortoises of the Galap... (by )
  • A New Species of Chelid Turtle, Phrynops Volume: v.119 (1958-1959) 
  • The Voyage of the Beagle (by )
  • Stupendemys Geographicus, the World's La... Volume: no.410-436 (1973-1976) 
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Celebrate World Turtle Day on May 23rd. The American Tortoise Rescue, a nonprofit organization founded to protect turtles and tortoises, and their vanishing habitats, established this commemorative holiday in 2000 to encourage people to boost their knowledge of both creatures. 

Both reptiles hail from the order of Testudines. While tortoises dwell on land, turtles live in or by the water. First appearing on the planet 245 million years ago, an estimated 318 species of turtles can be spotted all over the world—from the shores of Europe to North America, the Arctic, and beyond. 
Habitat destruction, global warming, the exotic food industry, and the pet trade contribute to the loss of these reptiles. Both are classified as endangered vertebrates.

A symbol of endurance, determination, and persistence, turtles can live up to 150 years. In many cultures around the globe, turtles represent sturdiness and good health. In the Native American culture, the turtle is a sacred figure that represents Mother Earth. With a potential lifespan of 10,000 years, the tortoise is a symbol of wisdom, as well as longevity. 

The largest tortoises are the giant Galapagos, which live in the Galapagos Islands and the Aldabra, which reside in the Aldabra Islands off the coast of Africa. An in-depth study by Jon Van Denburgh can be found here, and a passage of Charles Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos can be found in The Voyage of the Beagle.

People can help preserve the population of sea turtles. Shutting off lights that are visible from the beach can make a difference. For example, turtle hatchlings use light and reflections from the moonlight to navigate their way to the sea after dark. Artificial lighting only confuses hatchlings. As a result, they may accidentally move inland rather than out to sea, which places them in jeopardy. Also, the proper disposal of garbage can make an impact. Sea turtles sometimes become tangled in plastic and trash, and often confuse waste for food. 

As for tortoises, fencing can protect them from roadways and help create firebreaks to prevent the mass extinction of fragmented populations. Efforts are also being made to eradicate invasive plant species, which choke out native plants that tortoises depend on for food and water. 

On World Turtle Day, people worldwide work to save the turtles from highways and roads while others wear green, dress up as turtles, or boost their knowledge about these reptiles. Many teachers plan lessons and crafts that center around turtles and tortoises. Some companies are also pitching in to help. For example, Amazon’s Amazon Smile campaign donates 0.5 percent of eligible purchases to charitable organizations of the shopper’s choice, which includes American Tortoise Rescue.

By Regina Molaro
Main PC: Brian Doyle

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