Researchers from Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science have found that sea turtles from the heavily polluted area of Indian River Lagoon are biologically stressed on a molecular level.
The research was conducted as part of an effort to understand why some sea turtles develop tumors on their soft tissue and shells, a condition known as Green Turtle Fibropapillomatosis. The disease is multifactorial, although tumors are caused by the virus chelonid alpha-herpesvirus 5, which has co-existed with turtles for 300 million years. Pollution and suppressed immunity have been shown to be triggers of the outbreaks.
Researchers made their discovery when comparing blood samples taken from Indian River Lagoon sea turtles with those from the pristine Trident Basin area. Looking at adaptive immunity and innate immunity in both populations, researchers found that turtles with tumors demonstrated a reduced immune competence.
According to the lead author of the research, Sarah Milton:
“Findings from our study suggest that habitat quality, disease state, and immune function are intertwined, forming a positive feedback loop wherein polluted environments impact the immune system and make animals more prone to the expression of Green Turtle Fibropapillomatosis, which in turn further compromises the immune system.”