Sea Turtle Die Off, South Carolina
From Patricia Doyle, PhD

Weather and pollution play a role in compromising sea turtle immunity thus playing a role in turtles contracting viruses, bacteria etc.
Obviously, if sea turtles and other animals are effected by weather and pollution, humans will find they suffer from the same effects.
A prudent society would be one that watches, monitors animal die offs and "does something" about polluting the environment.
I truly believe that man's pollution of planet earth is hastening the global environmental problems and contributing to the irregular weather patterns that we are witnessing.
Patricia Doyle
Date: 1 Jul 2003 From: ProMED-mail <> Source: The Statesman (South Carolina) 1 Jul 2003 [edited] <>
Sea turtles are dying along the South Carolina coast this year in numbers that surprise wildlife officials. Nearly 80 sea turtles have washed ashore in South Carolina either dead or dying since January 2003.
Many of them have rotting flippers, parasite-riddled bodies, and shells encrusted with barnacles, said Sally Murphy, a sea turtle biologist with the Natural Resources Department.
Wildlife biologists and turtle experts say hypothermia and pollution may be among the causes.
Mary Schneider of Pawleys Island found one of the most recent turtles May 26 at the south end of the Litchfield section of Georgetown County. State officials shipped the turtle, which was barely alive, to North Carolina State University for tests.
"I've never seen a more heavily parasitized sea turtle, both internally and externally," said veterinarian Greg Lewbart, who helped perform the examination. Leeches covered the turtle's skin, and flukes lined its stomach and intestines. Worms clogged its blood vessels and major organs.
"Even healthy turtles have some parasites," Lewbart said. "But if they're allowed to overrun the host, that's when you have a problem."
Dead turtles are not unusual in the spring, when loggerheads and others swim from wintering grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, biologists say. The number of is like nothing South Carolina biologists have seen, Natural Resources Department officials say. The number of dead turtles is up this year from 45 in 2002 and 27 in 2001.
The deaths are happening as nesting season picks up. A dozen turtle nests have turned up in Horry County in the last month, compared with 2 for all of last season. Georgetown beaches have seen 58 nests since May 21, said Jeff McClary, head of South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts.
There are several theories on the turtle deaths. A sudden cold spell early in the fall of 2002 may have caught some turtles off Guard while they fed in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound. As cold-blooded animals, turtles' body temperatures reflect the air or water temperatures around them. The sudden chill may have "cold stunned" the turtles, Murphy said, causing their core body temperatures to plummet and making it hard for them to feed. The weakened turtles could have been swept out of the sound on the tides and survived until spring, when currents carried them onto South Carolina beaches, Murphy said.
The fact that most are covered with sea life indicates they haven't been swimming vigorously, she said.
"Most of them die immediately upon hitting the beach," Murphy said. But that doesn't explain the whole problem, she said. "Something else weakened these turtles and kept them from fighting off the parasites," Murphy said.
An examination of a 10-pound green sea turtle that washed up in Myrtle Beach had scraps of plastic that had passed through its digestive tract, the Natural Resources Department said. Turtles have been known to eat floating plastic, such as sandwich bags, because it looks like jellyfish, the turtles' favorite food, biologists say. The bags can lodge in the turtles' digestive system, ultimately starving them to death. But the turtle examined at North Carolina State didn't have plastic or other foreign objects in its body, Lewbart said. "The question is," Lewbart said, "what's out of balance?"
-- ProMED-mail <>
[Undoubtedly weather and pollution will play a role in the turtle's metabolism and immunity. Is it a lack of food, or is unusual weather affecting the availability or quality of food for these turtles? One has to wonder whether these turtles are immunocompromised, or whether there is some other bacterium, virus, or parasite that is profoundly affecting these turtles. - Mod.TG]
Patricia A. Doyle, PhD Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message board at: Zhan le Devlesa tai sastimasa Go with God and in Good Health



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