Saturday, April 04, 2009


Turtles fill bubbling pools at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet, Florida, these days as its staff scrambles to keep up with mass strandings along Florida's northeast coast. About 170 turtles, both greens and loggerheads, have been found either dead or sick and emaciated on beaches from Jacksonville to Brevard County since January 2009.That's more than 3 times the normal number, said Allen Foley, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. About half the turtles were green turtles and half were loggerheads. Foley said that is also unusual, because normally they get 2 stranded loggerheads for every green turtle.The science center has received 48 turtles since24 Feb 2009, said Tammy Langer, an environmental specialist. "We are terribly swamped," Langer said Thursday [26 Mar 2009], in between giving the up to 3 times daily tube feedings required by some of the turtles. The science center mixes a blend of ground fish, Pedialyte, Ensure and other ingredients to help boost the turtles' calorie intake and promote weight gain. "We've lost a couple, but for the most part they're doing good," Langer said. They're gaining weight and some are now eating on their own.The center had 4 loggerheads and 12 green turtles Thursday. The rest were sent to other rehabilitation centers in Florida and southern Georgia, because the center's small facility in Ponce Inlet is full.A pathologist at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine has examined many of the dead turtles, trying to figure out what caused the mass stranding. Foley said they don't have any answers yet. "It might be some type of toxin from an algae bloom," he said. "But that's just a guess for lack of anything else." No single disease, bacteria or viral disease has been found in the turtles, he said. If the cause is a harmful algal bloom or a toxin, researchers might never pinpoint it, Foley said. "We can only test for a few and there are thousands out there."Langer has noticed most of the turtles have secondary problems, such as deep gashes in their shells from collisions with boats or heavy barnacle growth. Whatever the cause, Foley said it doesn't seem to be killing anything else.That's an important clue because some toxic blooms, such as red tide, affect many kinds of animals including dolphins, manatees and birds.On Wednesday, 3 more turtles arrived at the science center. On Thursday 26 Mar 2009] , the center received a turtle that died later. But there were no new arrivals by 5 p.m. Friday [27 Mar 2009]. If the center went a day with no new turtles, it would be the 1st since the strandings began.[Byline: Dinah Voyles Pulver]

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