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Tumors Plague Indian River Lagoon Turtles, And Researchers Want To Know Why

Photo courtesy The Nature Conservancy.

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There’s a new effort to determine why green sea turtles in the Indian River Lagoon are covered with tumors.

Nearly half of the green sea turtles in the Indian River Lagoon suffer from the tumors.

Kate Mansfield of the University of Central Florida says the number and range of cases are expanding. But what’s causing them is a mystery. Mansfield says all of the turtles with the tumors have a certain virus, but not every turtle with the virus has tumors. So other contributors are suspected.

“The ones that are most severe tend to be the ones that have their eyes covered by the tumors, or their mouths or esophagus might be blocked or close to being blocked by the tumors, which really would impair their ability to find food and essentially eat.”

Anna Savage of the University of Central Florida says the tumors are part of a global pattern of disease in cold-blooded animals, possibly related to climate change.

“Because it seems to be really causing disease outbreaks in exotherms, which depend on their environment for maintaining their own body temperature, there’s this idea out there that it’s potentially climate change or some climate-related factors.”

Green sea turtles are endangered. Florida’s east coast is among the world’s most significant nesting sites. The troubled Indian River Lagoon is the focus of a regional restoration effort.

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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment for 90.7 News. She is an award-winning journalist whose work has been heard on NPR and seen in PEOPLE, Newsweek, The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. She began her career at The Associated Press. Her book on the Everglades, under contract with Johns Hopkins ... Read Full Bio »