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Newly Discovered Virus Behind Turtle Die-Off In St. Johns River, Researchers Say

Softshell turtle. Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Softshell turtle. Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

We’re learning more about a die-off of softshell turtles and cooters in the St. Johns River.

The turtles appear to be afflicted with a virus that never has been seen before.

Some 300 dead or sick turtles have been reported in the past year in the St. Johns River from Palm Bay to Palatka and also in Cocoa Beach, Eustis, Lake Apopka and Windermere.

Lisa Shender of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the turtles are lethargic and suffering from lesions.

“They’re just up on the bank, either up on the bank of the river with their necks laid out and they’re dead or they’re floating in the water dead.”

She asks the public to contact Florida Fish and Wildlife with any reports of dead turtles as researchers work to better understand the virus.

“We’re interested in knowing if it just occurs in the same location as it did last year or if it’s spreading to new locations," Shender says. "We would like to continue to collect additional carcuses to take a look at them.”

Florida Fish and Wildlife is partnering with the University of Florida, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in the investigation.

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.
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