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In search for clues behind Indian River Lagoon turtle tumors, researchers zero in on genetics

A juvenile green sea turtle from the Indian River Lagoon in Florida suffering from Green Turtle Fibropapillomatosis. Photo courtesy Florida Atlantic University
A juvenile green sea turtle from the Indian River Lagoon in Florida suffering from Green Turtle Fibropapillomatosis. Photo courtesy Florida Atlantic University

Researchers say they are making progress toward discovering why about half of the green sea turtles in the Indian River Lagoon are covered with tumors. 

The tumors can grow inside and outside of the sea turtles’ bodies, obstructing internal organs and affecting eyesight and mobility.

A new University of Central Florida study zeroes in on how genetics might affect the turtles’ immune systems. Researcher Katie Martin says that could help identify more vulnerable turtles.  

“That might be a population or an area where we say, OK, we need more environmental protection for these individuals, or we need to monitor them more closely because it’s possible they are more susceptible to disease.” 

Other research suggests a link with water quality. The Indian River Lagoon long has suffered from water quality problems associated with excessive nutrient pollution.  

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