Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Gruesome Tumors on Sea Turtles Linked to Climate Change and Pollution

Climate
Gruesome Tumors on Sea Turtles Linked to Climate Change and Pollution

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

Sustainable t-shirts by Allbirds are made from a new, low-carbon material that uses a mineral extract from discarded snow crab shells. Jerry Buttles / Allbirds

In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

Trending

There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.

Read More Show Less
Financial institutions in New York state will now have to consider the climate-related risks of their planning strategies. Ramy Majouji / WikiMedia Commons

By Brett Wilkins

Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
The left image shows the OSIRIS-REx collector head hovering over the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) after the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism arm moved it into the proper position for capture. The right image shows the collector head secured onto the capture ring in the SRC. NASA / Goddard / University of Arizona / Lockheed Martin

A NASA spacecraft has successfully collected a sample from the Bennu asteroid more than 200 million miles away from Earth. The samples were safely stored and will be preserved for scientists to study after the spacecraft drops them over the Utah desert in 2023, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch