THE DECLINE OF THE SEA TURTLES: Causes and Prevention by the National Research Council (National Academy Press: $14.95, illustrated). In 1989, the federal government commissioned a blue-ribbon panel of scientists to review the status of the five species of sea turtle that inhabit U.S. waters (Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, hawksbill, green). Their report cites numerous reasons for the alarming decline of all five species, including continued hunting of turtles for meat, hides, shells and eggs; commercial development of nesting beaches on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts; pollution and offshore oil drilling. But commercial shrimp fishing accounts for up to 85% of the recorded turtle deaths--the air-breathing animals become entangled in the shrimpers’ trawling nets and drown. Most of these deaths can be prevented by curtailing trawling time and/or installing turtle-exclusionary devices, or T.E.D.s. But turtles lack the sunny appeal of dolphins, and there has been remarkably little public outcry to save these ugly but fascinating creatures.