Where do butterflies drink turtle tears? When did turtles have teeth? And what led Al Capone’s turtle-racing empire to end in disaster? These questions and more will be explored in this paper, as we take a journey through time with this remarkable and ancient creature.
Turtles have played a vital role in human culture from the earliest times of civilisation—they have been worshipped as deities, used in trade for their shells and meat, and have symbolically carried the land on their backs in the figure of the legendary World Turtle.
On World Turtle Day, we consider the past, present, and future for humans, turtles, and the environment. For over a hundred million years, turtles have played a crucial part in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems, transporting nutrients from oceans to beach systems. The awareness of the need to conserve sea turtles lay behind the world’s first piece of conservation legislation in Bermuda in 1610. Yet, the current moment is a critical one for turtle conservation: a landmark 2018 study found turtles are the most threatened group of animals on earth. In many ways, the animals have never been so visible to a broad modern audience, but generally, populations continue to decline and even become extinct.
Exploring the intricacy of the turtle, as a cultural symbol and a biological animal, imposes an appreciation of the deep connection between the creature and its environment. In the increasingly fast-paced world of the 21st century, it has never been more important to consider the cultural history of this remarkable animal and take a swim in the slow lane of life with the turtle.
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