Cover image for Fire in the turtle house : the green sea turtle and the fate of the ocean
Fire in the turtle house : the green sea turtle and the fate of the ocean
Davidson, Osha Gray.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [2001]

Physical Description:
xii, 258 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1230 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL666.C536 D37 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



"Gives readers a startling perspective on the fate of the planet by taking them through time and tides on the back of a sea turtle, whose every species is today endangered or threatened." --Natural Resources Defense Council's OnEarth

Author Notes

Osha Gray Davidson His work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Republic

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

A horrible disease of unknown origin is ravaging the already diminished ranks of green sea turtles, causing nonmalignant tumors. The tumors obscure their eyes, so they cannot hunt; cover flippers and hamper movement; and in some cases choke the internal organs. The disease was first scientifically described in 1938, but it was apparently rare till the 1980s, when it began to reach epidemic and then pandemic proportions. Davidson tracks the course of the disease as he dives with turtle researchers in Hawaii, observes surgeries to remove tumors in a rehabilitation hospital in Florida, and visits laboratory researchers questing for the cause. The story becomes more urgent as other species of sea turtles turn up with the same disease. Reading like a detective novel, the text draws the reader into the search for the cause of the tumor: Is it a virus? Parasites? Marine pollution? Following the strands of evidence, the author reminds us of the interrelatedness of life and the environment --Nancy Bent

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pulitzer-nominee Davidson (The Best of Enemies) offers the reader an eloquent ecocautionary tale wrapped in a scientific mystery. Sea turtles have thrived for more than 100 million years. Now their existence is threatened not only by human depredation but also by a virulent scourge of unknown origin. In the 1930s, marine biologists began to notice ugly growths on some aquarium turtle specimens. Fibropapillomatosis are nonmalignant tumors that endanger the world's sea turtle population through a range of fatal complications. The pandemic has spread throughout the world's oceans with devastating effects on these docile sea-dwelling reptiles. From remote Pacific atolls to Key West, the author provides an underwater travelogue in search of an answer to the disease's origin. Along the way, we meet an entourage of fascinating marine biologists, veterinarians and dedicated lay people in a common quest for both a cause and a cure. With a quick-flowing narrative sparkling with wit, Davidson also provides anecdotal episodes about other similarly intriguing situations in the natural world. Tales of 18th-century Russian arctic explorers and sea cows, Columbus's experiences with turtles in the Caribbean, captive elephants in Florida, the British Museum's rarities, snake aficionados and poisonous Australian bacterial plumes are deftly combined to add breadth, depth and pathos to the story. Readers interested in ecology and animals, as well as those who value strong prose, will be intrigued and troubled by this book. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A recent trend in science books for the general public is to write the "biography of an idea." Extending the genre to natural history and ecology, this book follows the attempts of marine scientists, veterinarians, and turtle lovers to unravel the causes and find a cure for fibropappilomatosis (FP), a serious epidemic disease currently devastating the green sea turtle population worldwide. Using FP research as a theme, Davidson (The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef) discusses marine ecology, disease transmission, overfishing, the migration of alien species between ocean basins, and especially the human factor in the spread of disease and pollution throughout the oceans. The author makes complex material understandable to the lay reader, though the book's rambling quality suggests that he may be trying to cover too much in too few pages. Marine turtles have been generally ignored by the public, overshadowed by whales and dolphins; this book provides some well-deserved attention to the preservation of these valuable animals. Recommended for all public and academic libraries as well as all libraries where there is interest in ecology, marine science, and zoology. Margaret Rioux, MBL/WHOI Lib., Woods Hole, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. XI
Prologuep. 1
1. Discoveryp. 19
2. How Many Honu?p. 25
3. The Turtle Seap. 45
4. Lessons of Cannery Rowp. 75
5. Outbreakp. 91
6. The Cayman Hotspotp. 105
7. Turtleheadsp. 115
8. An Elusive Virusp. 137
9. Turtle Hospitalp. 147
10. A Marine Metademicp. 161
11. Cells from Hellp. 171
12. The Environmental Keyp. 189
13. Children of the Seap. 211
Bibliographyp. 223
Indexp. 243