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Sea Turtles from Pre-Turtles? No Evidence of It

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We recently shared news about humpback whales. Here are some new findings about another group of stars of Illustra’s film Living Waters: sea turtles. There are seven species of sea turtles in the world today, all beautifully designed and, sadly, all endangered. Consider first, appropriately, the enigma of origins.

Fossils

Do we see progression in the fossil record of sea turtles? No; according to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the oldest ancestor of modern sea turtles was — a sea turtle. Apparently they profited from global warming.

Climatic warming during the mid-Cretaceous resulted in elevated sea levels and temperatures that, in turn, provided an abundance of new niches for marine turtles to invade,” said Drew Gentry, a UAB biology doctoral student and the lead researcher on the project. “Represented today by only seven living species, sea turtles were once one of the most diverse lineages of marine reptiles. Before the cataclysm that claimed the dinosaurs, there may have been dozens of specialized species of sea turtle living in different oceanic habitats around the world.”

This won’t likely switch turtle conservationists in favor of anthropogenic climate change. It does seem a little bit dubious, though, to make evolutionary diversity a function of temperature.

“There is strong evidence which indicates freshwater turtles may have evolved to occupy marine environments at several points in the past,” Gentry said. “But most of those lineages went extinct, making the exact origins of living or ‘true’ sea turtles somewhat of a mystery.”

Evolutionists can always concoct a just-so story to explain any observation. Not wanting to leave a mystery unsolved, UAB’s Gentry offers one:

“Data from C. acris tell us not only that marine turtles are capable of occupying specialized oceanic niches, but also that many of the sea turtles we know today may have gotten their evolutionary start as something similar to an oversized snapping turtle in what eventually became the southeastern United States.”

Phys.org tells about volunteers who found turtles on Cape Cod suffering from hypothermia and released them in warmer waters. That’s 54 “cold-stunned turtles” rescued this year, and 600 last year. If sea turtles are “capable of occupying specialized oceanic niches,” should humans be interfering with their evolution?

Turtles and tortoises occupy the wettest and driest habitats on earth, yet we humans feel a need to help them out. Phys.org also tells about citizen scientists helping save Australian land turtles from extinction, despite the fact that “A single female freshwater turtle may live more than 100 years and produce more than 2000 eggs in her lifetime.” Apparently they aren’t evolving fast enough to outfox the red fox, introduced in the 1800s by humans. But evolution is clever. It evolved humans to do the job:

“Our computer models show that one harvest population may provide enough hatchling turtles to restore 25 other similar sized populations to pre-European turtle densities.”

“Creating low cost ‘turtle nurseries’ throughout the country will provide a way to out-fox the fox without a single poison bait or bullet.”

Presumably evolution is capable of creating beings that can use intelligent design to solve problems of their own making.

The Tragedy of the Commons

Human beings seem to be the only creatures on earth that willfully fall into the tragedy of the commons — or that can use their minds to recognize the tragedy and try to avert it. Sea turtles would probably be thriving without bad human actors, who capture them for their eggs and meat and destroy their habitats. Consider the case in Indonesia. Still another article at Phys.org shows volunteers releasing sea turtle hatchlings onto a beach:

A group of turtles scurried down a beach and glided into the sea, enjoying their newfound freedom after being cared for at an Indonesian conservation centre.

The sea turtles were released by local tourists in Pariaman city, on western Sumatra island, in front of the Turtle Conservation Technical Operating Unit. [Emphasis added.]

It’s a curious case of humans protecting non-humans from other humans.

Six of the world’s seven turtle species can be found in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands that is home to a dizzying array of exotic wildlife.

Almost all turtle species are endangered. Their eggs are considered a delicacy and they are also slaughtered for their meat, skin and shells.

We see here another indication of human uniqueness: moral responsibility for the living world. Without it, nobody could claim the slaughter of turtles is wrong. It would just be survival of the fittest, and the turtles would lose the race.

Hawksbills

On the other side of the globe, Belize has good news: the hawksbill sea turtle, classed as “critically endangered,” is doing “swimmingly well” thanks to conservation efforts, reports Fox News. Once again, it was humans killing them off for their shells, meat, and eggs, but protection efforts at a reef offshore have borne fruit: “The Wildlife Conservation Society says that the sea turtle’s rebound is an indication of the success of protection efforts in this large reef system.” After snorkeling, catching, tagging, and releasing turtles for years, marine biologists estimate a thousand juveniles in the area, a model for other conservation programs. Phys.org has a picture of one marine scientist handling a hawksbill, and another photo of a turtle being hoisted onboard a ship for tagging. Stephen Dunbar, who appears in Living Waters, has been involved for years in conservation efforts of hawksbill sea turtles in nearby Honduras.

Leatherbacks

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest reptiles alive today. Take it from the Cornell Chronicle:

Leatherbacks, the world’s largest reptiles, do not have hard shells like other turtles. Instead, they have a softer, leather-like shell. The turtles can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and are eating machines, as one can nosh daily on hundreds of pounds of its favorite meal — jellyfish. Leatherback sea turtles and jellyfish are found throughout the world’s oceans, but the authors of this study think that these leatherbacks are likely enjoying a bountiful jellyfish supply in the Mozambique Channel.

They hint at a further evolutionary conundrum: why would long-distance migration evolve?

Endangered leatherback sea turtles are known for their open-ocean migratory nature and nomadic foraging habits — traveling thousands of miles. But a Cornell naturalist and his colleagues have discovered an area along the Mozambique coast that the turtles have made their permanent home, according to a study published in Nature‘s Scientific Reports.

All that magnetic-field navigation equipment for nothing? One would think neo-Darwinism, stingy as it is, would stop here where life is good. Instead, some of the turtles ventured out 10,000 km toward the south Atlantic Ocean or into the Indian Ocean. The research news says nothing about evolution.

Image credit: Drew Gentry, via University of Alabama at Birmingham.