A Sea-Change in the Sea? Perceptions and Practices Towards Sea Turtles and Manatees in Portugal’s Atlantic Ocean Legacy

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The perception of a natural environment, and human attitudes towards that environment and its elements, have always been shaped by a multitude of factors such as aesthetics, traditional, cultural and historical importance, usefulness and economic value. More recently the level of public knowledge, along with the perception of the cognitive and behavioral characteristics as well as loveable qualities of the animals, plays a major role in human-nature relations. In this chapter, large marine mega fauna – a group that brings together charismatic species with similar features that enhances care in the context of this topic – are analyzed as paradigmatic case-studies in maritime history and marine environmental history of the Portuguese Atlantic from the fifteenth century to the present. The exploitation and trade of marine resources has a documented history which changed dramatically with the European Overseas Expansion. The exploration of the Atlantic constituted a strong stimulus not only to perceive the world in a new geographical and cultural dimension, but also – in describing the novelty, exoticism, beauty and strangeness of nature – to value it as an economical source leading to the dwindling of entire populations. Here, the cases of sea turtles and manatees in the South Atlantic are explored. Early modern written sources, iconography and cartography, modern fishing and import/export statistics, journals and news, articles and naturalists’ records, and contemporary oral history and conservation concerns were gathered and analyzed to understand changing perceptions and attitudes over time.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPerspectives on Oceans Past
Subtitle of host publicationA Handbook on Marine Environmental History
EditorsKathleen Schwerdtner, Bo Poulsen
Place of PublicationDordrecht
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-017-7496-3
ISBN (Print)978-94-017-7495-6
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • South Atlantic
  • Sea turtles
  • Manatees
  • Exploration and exploitation
  • Historical changes
  • Local cultures


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