A green sea turtle covered in Fibropapillomatosis tumours. (Melanie Meijer zu Schlochtern photo)
COLE BAY–St. Maarten Nature Foundation has recorded a turtle covered in numerous tumours, during a working dive. These tumours are related to the turtle being infected by the highly contagious, herpes-like virus called Fibropapillomatosis.
The tumours covered a significant part of the turtle’s head and flippers, causing the animal difficulty in moving and feeding.
The disease was recorded previously in St. Maarten in 2010, when some six critically endangered sea turtles died from the effects of the disease.
“This is really very bad news, as sea turtles are severely endangered locally, regionally, and globally, and the loss of a single specimen really impacts the whole population,” said Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets.
“It has been some nine years since we have recorded a turtle with the infection on the Dutch side, and unfortunately, based on the location of the turtle close to areas of Simpson Bay that tested negatively for water quality, pollution may be to blame.”
Fibropapillomatosis is a disease specific to sea turtles. The condition is characterised by benign but ultimately debilitating epithelial tumours on the surface of biological tissue. A herpes virus is believed to be the causative agent of the disease, which is thought to have a multifactorial cause, including a tumour-promoting phase that is possibly caused by biotoxins or contaminants.
“The tumours grow so big and numerous that it stops the turtles from being able to swim and eat, so ultimately it is starvation or drowning which kills the animal eventually. Scientists from around the world are trying to figure out what cures may be, but, as mentioned, preliminary results have shown that it might be caused by pollution. This is very bad news for a species which already has a hard time trying to survive,” Bervoets said.