Sea turtles and tumors: Our researcher, Costanza Manes tells you everything about it here

I am very pleased to write this blog post as it feels like a coronation, but also as a follow-up to a previous one. If you have followed our blog, you might remember a post, back from September 30th,

“All research conducted under FWC permit #118 and NMFS Permit #21327”

2019, titled “How Sea Turtles Sparked a Collaboration Between Leonardo Fellows” where we came up with a research design aimed at potentially unraveling some environmental factors behind a tumoral disease affecting wild sea turtles populations. Well, not only did we manage to do it, but that idea has now turned into a scientific publication!. Currently available open access, the paper describes how we successfully accessed and analyzed extensive databases and what were our findings. 

As a refresher, the aforementioned tumoral disease of sea turtles is called Fibropapillomatosis. This disease is presumably caused by a viral agent, Chelonian Herpesvirus 5 (ChHV5), and it provokes the growth of tumoral lesions on the sea turtle body, especially on the eyes and flipper areas. These tumors present serious problems for them, as they hinder the turtles from eating, seeing, and swimming properly, with potentially lethal consequences. The surprising factor is that ChHV5 has been evolving with its sea turtle host for millions of years, but only recently, we have been noticing a high prevalence (up to 70%) in sea turtle populations along the Florida coastline. These findings indicate that the disease is likely being triggered by environmental factors in the rapidly changing marine coastal ecosystems where the sea turtles live (i.e., climate change, urbanization, and/or pollution). 

Sea turtle rehabilitating in captivity.

In our previous blog post, I mentioned that we would focus on factors like ocean temperature and currents. However, in an incredible feat, my engineer collaborator, Daniele Pinton managed to extract datasets related to river discharge and pollutants, as well as salinity and density of human populations along the coast. By comparing the disease prevalence of sea turtles and these environmental factors, we found that variations in sea temperatures, salinity, and river discharge might be significant components in the tumoral outbreaks of wild sea turtles! If you would like to read those results in detail, and the potential biological mechanisms that make this happen, so please open up the paper link and enjoy!

I would like to conclude by expressing how glad I am that this hard work has paid out. I encourage everyone to look at this study via a One Health lens. This disease is clearly multifactorial in nature and shows that anthropogenic changes in the environment can have a ripple effect, inducing infectious disease outbreaks in wild animals, as we have detected and reported in our latest publication. I thank all my collaborators for the continuous and valuable support which made this possible!

By: Costanza Manes | Research Fellow

Posted: May 24, 2022

Category: Coasts & Marine, Conservation, Natural Resources, Pests & Disease, Wildlife
Tags: Climate Change, IFAS One Health, One Health, Sea Turtles

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