A lucid and disturbing report on grim happenings in the sea-turtle world—and by extension the oceans themselves—from Davidson (The Enchanted Braid, 1998, etc.).
A pestilence is burning through the populations of sea turtles: fibropapillomatosis (FP), a nasty little virus now a serious epidemic, perhaps the most serious epidemic raging through the nonhuman world: outbreaks of FP have been found from Hawaii to Australia to Florida’s Indian River Lagoon, while the mortality rates and the startling spread of the disease give it the profile of an emerging virus. FP forms tumors over the body of the sea turtles and eventually kills them. As Davidson explains, it is transglobal, has claimed up to 90 percent of some sea-turtle populations, and has jumped species within the sea-turtle world, attacking victims already in danger of extinction. Davidson’s steady voice carries momentum as he suggests that FP may well be another warning light that we are on the verge of leaving our children an oceanic environment resembling “a sickly ghost, drained of animal life and crowded with pathogens.” Following the scientists as they search for answers to the FP crisis, Davidson provides insights into both the environmental assaults on the green sea turtle—overhunting, habitat destruction, transforming coastal waterways into breeding grounds for disease, global warming—and the preliminary biological thinking behind the causes of FP, which include non-native pathogenic pollution such as toxic dinoflagellates in algae and the mysterious workings of the herpes virus. But it is impossible to escape an obvious element, “and that’s precisely the one characteristic shared by all FP hotspots: humans have radically changed the marine environment in which the diseased turtles live.”
Davidson brings environmental passion, as well as a gimlet-eyed environmental appreciation, to the turtles’ predicament, giving the plague a moral dimension as well as delivering on the scientific one.