Disease Linked to Poor Water Quality Affecting Island’s Sea Turtle Population

During a working dive the Nature Foundation has recorded a turtle covered in numerous tumours. 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 on Sint Maarten in 2010, where 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,” commented Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation Manager. “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,” continued Bervoets.

Fibropapillomatosis (FP) is a disease specific to sea turtles. The condition is characterized by benign but ultimately debilitating epithelial tumours on the surface of biological tissue. A herpesvirus is believed to be the causative agent of the disease and 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,” concludes Bervoets.