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

About The Author

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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