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Friday, June 13, 2014

Sea Turtle Scientist, by Stephen R. Swinburne. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2014. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"Leatherbacks begin nesting on St. Kitts in March annually. Approximately sixty to sixty-five days after the mother leatherback completes her nest and returns to the sea, the eggs begin to hatch.."

I seem to repeat myself whenever it comes to a new addition to the Scientists in the Field series from this fine publisher of exceptional nonfiction for young readers. I love these books, and I think that any child interested in animals in the wild will be astounded by the amount of information that writers such as Stephen Swinburne are able to impart about the very special scientists who work so diligently in their chosen field.

Dr. Kimberly Scott is a veterinarian whose work with endangered sea turtles has helped to establish lasting and beneficial connections between the turtles themselves and the people of St. Kitts. Many fisherman once relied on fishing the sea turtles to provide food and finance for their families. As numbers begin to shrink, it is not hard to tell that there will soon be big trouble. Alternate ways to create income are being considered, and finding acceptance.

Kids love to hear stories. Stephen Swinburne is adept at telling such stories. So he begins with a compelling image, and a sober reminder about how tenuous life in the wild can be:

"One egg out of a thousand will produce an adult sea turtle.” So says Dr. Kimberly Stewart as she gently places the leatherback hatchling, not much larger than a match-box car, onto the black-flecked sand. Its front flippers begin to beat, heaving the tiny turtle toward the sea and stippling the face of the sand with miniature tracks. “This could be the one in a thousand."

Are you interested? I would think so.

Following Dr. Stewart allows Mr. Swinburne to see the love she has for these endangered creatures. Her commitment to the turtles- leatherbacks, green and hawksbill- that live on St. Kitts is enduring and has resulted in the establishment of a program that monitors the sea turtles she studies. They face many dangers:

"Are twenty-first century pressures - a polluted and plastic-filled ocean, the loss of nesting beaches, the poaching of eggs and slaughter of adults, the risk of drowning in nets - overwhelming the marine turtle population?"

That is her find out if we will lose these creatures who have outlived the dinosaurs.

We learn a great deal about the leatherbacks through accessible and informative text, and beautifully shot and carefully captioned photographs. Colorful, framed boxes add even more complete data for readers. We also meet people who are working to make conditions better, and to ensure longevity for the sea turtle population that exists today.

When St. Kitts fisherman Theo Taylor met Kimberly in 2006, he was happy to share his sea turtle harvest with her for the sake of science. She eventually convinced him to consider conservation; he was also willing to hear what she had to say about alternative income opportunities. He now advocates for them by patrolling for turtles during nesting season, and telling schoolchildren about them the rest of the year! A coup, if there ever was one!

As usual, there is so much to learn, and to admire about those scientists who work selflessly and endlessly to make our world a better place. Lucky we are to have such a consistently terrific series to share with our children and students. Every time I read a new one, I am in awe of the work being done around the world.

Back matter includes a glossary, information for helping sea turtles and even adopting one, a list of websites and books that might be accessed for further learning, acknowledgements, photo credits and an index. Then, if you aren't sure what you have missed, there is a full list of all previous titles in this incredible series.

So, get out of the dingy science labs and classrooms, and make your way to a sunny Caribbean island if you want to really know how turtles have been threatened, and are now thriving through concentrated efforts to change those conditions that were certain to lead to their being lost to us forever.

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