Quantcast

Gruesome Tumors on Sea Turtles Linked to Climate Change and Pollution

Climate

A turtle hospital in Marathon, Florida is treating an increasing number of green sea turtles affected by fibropapillomatosis (FP), a global sea turtle disease caused by a herpes virus. The disease leads to the formation of tumors on the turtles' eyes, flippers and internal organs. The possible culprits? Pollution and warming waters.


A juvenile green turtle afflicted with fibropapillomatosis. Turtles with this disease can grow tumors large enough to hamper swimming, vision, feeding and potential escape from predators, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. Photo credit:
PeerJ

In all, the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital rescue and rehab facility has admitted 93 sea turtles in 2014, 68 in 2013 and 56 in 2012, the The Miami Herald reported.

"Marine turtles with FP have external tumors that may grow so large and hanging as to hamper swimming, vision, feeding and potential escape from predators," hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach told the publication. "Over 50 percent of the green sea turtle population in and around the Florida Keys is infected with FP."

The hospital cuts off these growths with a carbon dioxide laser. "When I first started here 20 years ago, I would do six to eight of these [surgeries] a month," veterinarian Doug Mader told the international news agency Agence France-Presse. "Now we are doing six to eight a week."

"In 2012 it was rare to have a turtle coming in with tumors on both eyes. By fall of 2013 almost every turtle that came in with this virus had both eyes covered with tumors," Zirkelbach told the AFP.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the survival rate of green turtles after surgery is more than 90 percent. However, it's not exactly a simple slice and dice job. For instance, according to a Turtle Hospital newsletter, it took half a year and eight surgeries to remove every tumor from a female sub-adult green sea turtle named Squirt, who was found severely sick and injured in a marina in Islamorada last July. The tumors were all over her eyes and body. Fortunately, Squirt's surgeries were a success and she is currently recovering.

Squirt, however, is one of the lucky ones. Because the turtles are already so sick, only one in five green sea turtles staying at the hospital with fibropapillomatosis get released back to the wild, Zirkelbach said.

"The biggest challenge for us is it never ends," Mader says in the video below about the revolving door of FB-infected turtles. "Every week, it's the same thing over and over again."

Although the increased number of FB-affected turtles the hospital is seeing could be due to the area's rebounding green sea turtle populations or increased local rescue and awareness efforts, increased pollution in urban areas and farm water runoff could also be the causes.

A 2014 study from Duke University, the University of Hawaii and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found a link between polluted urban and farm runoff in Hawaii to FB in endangered sea turtles, Science Daily reported. The researchers said that excess nitrogen in the runoff accumulates in algae that the turtles eat and can cause the disease.

The increases in sea surface temperatures as a result of climate change is also suspected.

"I have this horrible feeling that as the oceans warm we are going to see more and more disease," Mader told AFP.

Billy Causey, who has studied sea turtles since the 1960s and managed NOAA's marine sanctuaries in the Keys since 1983, also believes warmer waters could be a cause.

“It's basic chemistry," Causey told The Miami Herald in 2014. “You heat water a little bit and nothing happens. But then you add chemicals to the water, certainly things accelerate."

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the first case of FB was reported in 1938 when the disease was detected in green turtles in the Florida Keys. The disease has now been observed in all major oceans.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Find Out How These Two Sisters Convinced Bali to Ban Plastic Bags by 2018

Starving Sea Lion Takes Refuge at Upscale San Diego Restaurant

4 Year Global Journey Ends in Must-See Documentary: 'A Plastic Ocean'

Watch This Zebra Escape From a Tokyo Zoo

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Jennifer A. Smith / Moment / Getty Images

By Brenda Ekwurzel

When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?

Read More Show Less
Shrimp fishing along the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

By Paula Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto

Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems.

Read More Show Less
Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

By Eoin Higgins

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less
A tropical storm above Bangkok on Aug. 04, 2016. Hristo Rusev/ NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jeff Turrentine

First off: Bangkok Wakes to Rain, the intricately wrought, elegantly crafted debut novel by the Thai-American author Pitchaya Sudbanthad, isn't really about climate change. This tale set in the sprawling subtropical Thai capital is ultimately a kind of family saga — although its interconnected characters aren't necessarily linked by a bloodline. What binds them is their relationship to a small parcel of urban land on which has variously stood a Christian mission, an upper-class family house, and a towering condominium. All of the characters have either called this place home or had some other significant connection to it.

Read More Show Less