Fallen Giants

Mark Summers1

“Big-is-always-better”, notably so when picking fruit

If fruit is giant tortoise big, picking's awfully sweet

And so it went for the behemoth isolationists

When they met Man on voyage of exploration

Or should that be voyage of exploitation

Seychelles, Galapagos, Mauritius all ‘discovered’

And all held creeps of prehistoric laggards

Dilly-dallying browser/grazers that could but crawl

Their comedown, though, was not a question of speed

Rather, their culinary value; stowed away, ever ready

Viande fraîche to be served up on some distant wave

Or rich tribute to he who got castaway on their isle

Their isle, found, became routine port of call

Their plenty became our plenty; while it lasted

Twenty Indian Ocean giants down to just one wild

Capable of an inning we humans but dream of

Yet we cut theirs horribly short

Leaving but a few spent shells

Emptied of existence.

But one example:

Cylindraspis inepta

Saddle-backed Mauritius Giant Tortoise

Extinct ca. early 1700s

Mauritius, Indian Ocean

Beat That!

Mark Summers1

Biggest, fastest, furthest-travelling, deepest-diving

Heavyweight champion of the sea-turtle tank

Twelve hundred pound meandering behemoth

Butterfly buoyant floater; sting-resistant prizefighter

Built on the backs of many a medusan corpse

Built with bony plate-embedded rubbery wetsuit

Taking, and surviving, nearly-Polar-Bear-dips

Spied from Norwegian north to antipodeans' Kiwi south

Wafting a wingspan greater than Wandering Albatross

Bravely battling on while the dinosaurs collapsed

And now faced with Man, the fiercest enemy of them all

Rookeries raped throughout Malaysia: gutted!

Eggs snatched before the Big Dule might restock

Mortal struggles lost to the longliner's ravening hook

Lives forfeit to the driftnet's take-all death chamber

High Seas under threat from boat-bound highwaymen

Great Pacific Garbage Patch spinning lethal deceit

Plastic deceiving you as jellyfish lookalike treat

Luth, you're swimming against a strengthening tide

Tide of ‘incidental’ loss, tide of blatant desecration

Time for me, Everyman, to stop and think

And decide, should you swim or sink?

Dermochelys coriacea

Leatherback, Luth, Trunkback Turtle

Extant: 26,000 – 43,000 nesting females

Status: critically endangered

Cosmopolitan: tropical to sub-polar seas

Editorial Comment. — These poems arrived by email one day—as so many now do—testament to the passion and personal needs of so many to express themselves in poetry when describing the plight of turtles. I've walked that path myself, composing several poems to celebrate and capture the essence of turtles and their need for preservation and protection. The author, a scientist like so many of us, has reached into his inner space to find and express beauty and rhythm in the poetic description of these inspiring animals. The inspiration and passion shown by people like him is inspiration in itself. Would that there were more of us in the world who lament the loss of species and the natural world—would that there were more of us to stand up for the preservation and protection of species and habitats, and to fight for the survival of our natural world and all its beauty and diversity. Would that the rest of the world felt as we do…


[1] Both poems composed March 2009.

[2] Submitted 27 July 2009 as part of a pre-publication poetry book on the Sixth Extinction. Printed here with permission of the author.

"Turtle Poetry," Chelonian Conservation and Biology 8(2), 227, (1 December 2009). https://doi.org/10.2744/1071-8443-8.2.227
Published: 1 December 2009
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