Sick turtles on the rise due to mystery disease

February 15, 2023 8:05 am in by
📷 Supplied by Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital

Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital’s seen a massive increase in sick or injured sea turtles.

Nearly 300 marine turtles have been treated at the hospital in the last year.

Hospital supervisor and vet Dr Ludo Valenza says the spike is not only extremely concerning but is stretching resources:

Article continues after this ad

“It’s a huge increase compared to previous years where we were seeing approximately 80 to 90 per year, and as the main wildlife hospital that’s responsible for treating these animals, this is a huge stretch on our resources and it’s extremely concerning for the survival of these species.

Of the 290 turtles treated at the Wildlife Hospital last year, 76 were green sea turtles suffering from a mysterious soft-shell syndrome, which causes ulcerated open wounds on shells and flippers.

Dr Ludo Valenza says the disease that’s emerged in the last year or so, is having a catastrophic effect on the population of marine turtles.

“What we see on the outside is actually only a fragment of what is going on inside their bodies and often they have severe gastrointestinal legions and they’re septic meaning that their blood is also infected.”

The cause of disease is still being investigated, with researchers working to find a cure, but it’s believed damage to seagrass meadows following recent floods may be to be blame.

Article continues after this ad

“We don’t have a definitive known cause but we do suspected that damage to the turtles’ ocean environment may be related to what we’re seeing. Because these turtles primarily feed on seagrass, and this resource is being depleted out in their environment, they’re having too eat food such as mangrove leaves which can have a toxic effect on their gut.”

“The investigation into the cause of this disease is still underway, so our aim at the Wildlife Hospital is to treat any secondary infections the turtles are developing as a result of being immuno-compromised.”

The Wildlife Hospital also treats marine turtles injured from other causes.

“We have also seen large turtles admitted after being hit by boats or fishing line ingestion. The natural environment of these beautiful animals is being severely compromised, and I am extremely concerned for their long term survival in the ocean,” Dr Ludo says.