Sunday, December 4, 2022
HomeThriving OceansThe most important health problem affecting sea turtles today

The most important health problem affecting sea turtles today

My first introduction the tumor issue plaguing sea turtles came in 2005 on a trip to Maui.  There I was excited to capture on camera my first encounter with a green sea turtle.  However, I was troubled to see numerous growths on its body and one directly above the eye.  I began to notice many of the turtles I happened upon while snorkeling had similar tumors over the body.  Scientists are still not completely sure what is causing the fibropapillomatosis, but evidence is pointing to a herpesvirus.

What is most interesting is the fact that although it has observed back in the 1930s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of turtles with the disease.  One Hawaiian sample  study resulted in 90% of green sea turtles having symptoms.  Researchers are now searching for the catalyst to this increasing issue, which has been described as “the most important health problem affecting free-ranging sea turtles today (Formia et al. 2007).”

Two hypotheses are making the rounds – 1) changes to environment have made sea turtles very susceptible to the virus that had otherwise been suppressed by their immune systems 2) the virus has mutated and taken on a more virulent strain that was not previously present or widespread.

Sea Turtle with fibropapillomatosis

Scott Artis
Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.


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