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.