World Turtle Day

Protecting them since 2000

May 23, 2023

Occasionally a topic comes up which triggers a long forgotten memory. Such is the case for May 23. Today is World Turtle Day; a day which, since the year 2000, has been designated to bring awareness of the need to preserve and rescue turtles and tortoises.

It’s a thrill to swim with the Hawaiian Green turtles when snorkeling. This photo is from Hawaiianpaddlesports.com

First, a bit about Turtles from the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Turtles are an order of reptiles known as Testudines, characterized by a special shell developed mainly from their ribs. Modern turtles are divided into two major groups, the Pleurodira (side necked turtles) and Cryptodira (hidden necked turtles), which differ in the way the head retracts. There are 360 living and recently extinct species of turtles, including land-dwelling tortoises and freshwater terrapins.” 

Granted the scientific information does not really do the animal justice. Turtles are truly fascinating creatures due, in my opinion, to their exoskeleton bone cover which gives them a look unique to other creatures.

Turtles can be gigantic, like the huge leatherback turtle, which can be almost 9 feet in length and weigh more than 1,100 pounds, or as small as the Speckled Cape Tortoise. Native to South Africa it measures no more than 3.9 inches and weighs less than 6.1 ounces.

But back to the long ago memory. It is September 1966 and the long anticipated Central Washington State Fair. In those years, there was one weekday afternoon when every elementary aged school boy and girl was released at noon for “Fair Day.” Oh what a glorious event that was. The horde would descend upon the midway and rides filled with screaming children; cows, goats, and other livestock were terrorized by thousands of small hands all seeking to pet the animals; and the carnival barkers collected every last cent the kids had to spend.

This particular year – and to this day I’m not quite sure HOW it came to be – my sister and I happened upon a booth which was selling turtles. Incredibly cute and tiny turtles. Each one probably cost the victim buyer 50 cents but those turtles instantly became a ‘must have’ item. So we each got a turtle which, if I remember correctly, was put into a plastic bag partially filled with water and then ‘inflated’ to give the creature air, for us to carry home.

I also cannot recall my mother’s reaction but I imagine she was less than thrilled as a space had to be found for our two new residents. A large round avocado green tub was acquired and an ‘island’ was built inside for the turtles.

The author and her sister in the summer of 1967, saying goodbye to Gilligan and the Professor

My sister and I named our two turtles Gilligan (mine) and the Professor (hers) after two characters from one of the most popular and favorite TV shows of the time “Gilligan’s Island.”

My childhood memory is that we dutifully fed our turtles and took good care of them. No doubt the chore fell mostly to my mother who didn’t want the turtles in the first place.

On it went and then, in the summer of 1967, it was decided that Gilligan and the Professor had outgrown their avocado green paradise and needed to find a new home. That new home, it turned out, was Sportsman Park just east of the Yakima River.

It was a hot summer day when my Dad, sister, and me took the turtles to the designated release spot. My grandmother – Dad’s mom – was along with us and took two pictures that day. On the back of one she wrote “Goodby turtles! Swim Happy! 1967” So my sister and me said our goodbyes, placed them on the ground and watched as they eagerly ran to the water and slipped into the pond, swimming away.

At Sportsman Park about to set the turtles free

I imagine I was a bit sad watching Gilligan leave but being that I was barely 10 years old, I got over it.

Fast forward to 2013, maybe 2014, and the hubby and I are Geocaching at Sportsman Park in Yakima. As we are walking along a path, I notice there are signs which tell about the various wildlife which lives there. We stop at this one pond and depicted there are pictures of turtles… which look just like Gilligan and the Professor.

I imagine there were other children whose parents also sought new ‘homes’ for turtles which had been brought home as a prize from the fair; I doubt ours were the only such creatures who found a new home in that pond.

On the other hand, while it was common practice to sell animals at fairs in the 1960’s, as a society we’ve come to appreciate that the introduction of non-native species can have a negative effect on the native species and the new habitat. Unfortunately, we didn’t know any better back then. The practice of selling turtles at fairs ended in the mid-1970’s.

So celebrate World Turtle Day through admiration of these amazing creatures and by leaving them alone to be, well, turtles.

For more information, a few links:

https://www.worldturtleday.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtle

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