Enduring Collection

The image below, of bottles and some kind of a collection, immediately made me think of marine life. Maybe it’s the small, irregular pieces carefully arrayed beneath each bottle. Maybe it’s the size of the bottles and their tidy alignment, paired against the sandy randomness of their spilled contents.


I thought it might be a collection of sand types, something from the Sand Atlas.

Samples from various beaches, perhaps.


These are forams (Sorites), Cyprus.
Source: Sand Atlas


The round bottles also made me think of sewing and buttons.

Maybe these were shards of buttons that had been found in an archeological dig.


Source: Tyrs/Wikimedia


Or perhaps the image is a tiny environmental art installation of natural materials.


The Darkness, an installation taken from part of a collapsed Sussex cliff.
Artist: Cornelia Parker

But no. The collection turned out to be none of those things, although each jagged piece will outlast almost anything else I had imagined. Each small piece here, even if it hadn’t been retrieved and catalogued, will endure for decades if not centuries.

I was correct about the marine life connection. The pieces had been battered and reduced from their original forms by water. But before they found their way into these lab bottles, each piece found its way into the mouth of a turtle hatchling, and each bottle represents the stomach contents of a hatchling either starved to death on a belly full of plastic, or that died as a result of damage caused by the plastic.

Stomach contents of deceased hatchling and post-hatchling sea turtle patients.
Source: Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Larger turtles can survive some level of plastic ingestion, which includes everything from small debris to entire plastic fishing nets. The hatchings can’t pass the plastic through their systems.

According to Jack Lighton, head of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida where these samples were collected, “It’s no longer a question of ‘if a sea turtle has ingested marine pollution,” it’s now a question of “how much the turtle has ingested.”

And because it’s not just turtles swallowing our garbage, but all manner of other animals on land and water, it’s something to consider in our ongoing world of packaging, non-reusable items like straws and plastic forks, plastic bags and plastic furniture.


Serendipitous Find

Turtle eggs. Photo: Palm Beach Post

Loggerhead turtle eggs.
Photo: Palm Beach Post

It’s one of those stories which, if it were written in a story, would be labeled implausible.

An amateur fossil collector is walking along the banks of a river when he sees a strange-looking stone sticking out of the mud. He bends down to have a closer look, and realises that the stone is, in fact, a bone. Thinking it might be a dinosaur fossil, he takes it to a museum.

The curator at that museum also happens to be someone who has seen another fossil that looked similar at another museum, a fossil that had been found 163 years earlier, origin unknown. He thought it might be interesting to compare the two.

And as it turned out, the two fossils did indeed have something in common: They were two halves of the very same bone.

More evidence that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Ancient sea turtle bones found 163 years apart are a perfect match.  Photo: Drexel University

Ancient sea turtle bones found 163 years apart are a perfect match.
Photo: Drexel University

The fossil half that was found in 2012 by Gregory Harpel on the banks of a brook in New Jersey and donated to the New Jersey State Museum and which was matched to the fossil half found in 1849 and kept in the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University did more than surprise by its mere discovery.

The location of the original fossil find hadn’t been recorded – now paleontologists know its origin. Monmouth County, New Jersey.

The bone that was broken millions of years ago, and the discovery of the second matching half, proved bones and fossils can stay intact when exposed to air for much longer than expected.

It helped researchers further describe the giant sea turtle, Atlantochelys mortoni, that swam the seas in 70 million to 75 million years ago during the Pleistocene or Holocene eras. The sea turtle most resembled the loggerhead turtle, which is currently considered endangered.

However, A. mortoni was the largest known turtle in history, measuring over three meters (10 feet). Much larger than the loggerhead, and at least as impressive in size as the wild tale of two matching fossil halves found over a century-and-a-half apart.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (C. caretta) Photo: Jorge Candan

Loggerhead sea turtle (C. caretta)
Photo: Jorge Candan