566 Sea Turtles Found Dead Along Florida Shores From January to June 1998

Date: August 31, 1998
Contact: Dan Evans
Phone: (352) 373-6441

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — Of the 566 sea turtles found dead between January and June along Florida’s shores, more than one-third of them showed signs of boat-related injuries, a 106% increase from the previous ten-year average, according to a report from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Marine Research Institute.

“We are concerned about the large increase in the number of sea turtles with boat-related injuries,” said Allen Foley, Florida Marine Research Institute Strandings Coordinator. “It is possible that we are better able to identify boat-related wounds, but the numbers seem overly high for that to be the only reason for the increase.”

Sea turtles, which are reptiles, don’t usually spend much time at the surface of the water. A turtle will rise to the surface, take a fresh breath of air, and then dive back down. But occasionally they may spend several minutes at the surface taking multiple breaths, making them more vulnerable to being struck by a boat.

“When you hear about a boat hitting a marine animal, most people think of manatees, not sea turtles,” said Dan Evans, Coordinator of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. “Actually, boats hit sea turtles more often than they hit manatees, so it’s important for boaters to know that sea turtles might be at the surface. An aware boater should easily be able to see a sea turtle bobbing in the water and avoid it.”

In addition to an increase in the number of sea turtles found with boat related injuries, the percentage of those found to have the tumor-causing diseasefibropapillomatosis (papillomas) was up 40%, a figure that disturbs Evans.

“Boaters can be educated to watch out for sea turtles in the water,” Evans said. “But we don’t yet know what’s causing this disease, and this disease is killing sea turtles.”

Papillomas is a potentially fatal disease that causes tumor-like growths on the soft tissue of sea turtles. The growths often cover the eyes of the turtles, causing blindness, which can lead to slow starvation because the turtles can’t see to find food. Researchers studying sea turtles in the Indian River Lagoon are finding that more than 70% of the juvenile sea turtles there have the disease. Water pollution may be linked to the occurrence of papillomas.

In the final week of the 1998 Florida Legislative Session, state lawmakers passed a resolution recognizing the serious threat papillomas poses to the state’s endangered sea turtles. The resolution, written and promoted by Caribbean Conservation Corporation, also called for more funding to study the causes of the disease.

“People need to know about this disease and keep reminding their elected representatives to support finding its cause. Boat-related injuries are more easily reduced. As more and more people spend time on the water, they just need to be aware of where their boat is going and what is around them, especially in areas where sea turtles and other marine animals like manatees are common,” said Evans. “And, if you do spot a sea turtle or manatee, enjoy the experience of seeing these wonderful creatures in the wild.”

High quality images can be found in our online Press Room: http://media.conserveturtles.org

The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. For more information, visit the STC website atwww.conserveturtles.org or call (800) 678-7853.