At the turtle hospital in Marathon, Florida, vets are currently taking care of 42 sea turtles. „But five are coming,“ adds Bette Zirkelbach.
The next day, he reports that five others are doing CT scans at a normal hospital – „the human hospital“.
The Turtle Hospital is a veterinary rehabilitation center that, since opening in 1986, has treated and released thousands of sea turtles.
The facility hosts around 100 turtles each year, but this number can vary considerably. They hosted 81 turtles in 2016 and 175 in 2015. Of all these sea turtles, about half had a disease called fibropapilloma, or FP for short.
FP is a herpes-like virus that causes benign tumors. In themselves, tumors are not lethal, but they can eventually kill turtles by compromising their ability to breathe or swim. Recently, the hospital has tested a cutting-edge electrochemotherapy technique to remove tumors. Through a technique called electroporation, a veterinarian administers a local dose of chemotherapy. This allows veterinarians to treat only the affected parts instead of carrying out chemotherapy throughout the turtle’s body.
Finding more modern and effective treatments can help the hospital with what they see as a growing problem. „We see more and more of these serious cases,“ says Zirkelbach. „They are also manifesting in other areas.“
Turtles and especially green sea turtles for some unknown reason are quite susceptible to FP. Environmental stressors such as water heating and pollution can make tumors worse.
A 2014 study published in PeerJ magazine found that urban and agricultural runoff was intensifying FP cases in Hawaii. A similar study in 2010 found that nitrogen-rich waters also tightened FP. Green sea turtles, like almost all species of turtles, are in danger of extinction.
Rescue, rehabilitate and reinsert injured turtles into their natural environment. These are the fundamental objectives of the Turtle Hospital in Miami, a hospital entirely dedicated to the care of turtles which, since its opening in 1986, has managed to replenish about 2 thousand specimens. In the hospital, the oldest of its kind in the United States, 18 people work who also deal with information and legislation to make the beaches cleaner and improve the quality of life of these reptiles.
Florida Keys Turtle Hospital treats a wide range of sea turtle ailments at its facilities. These ailments include damage to the shells as a result of collisions with boats, amputation of fins that can be caused by interweaving with trap ropes and fishing lines and intestinal problems caused by the ingestion of materials such as hooks, fishing line, balloons and plastic bags. The most common surgery performed at Turtle Hospital is the removal of debilitating tumors, which affect over fifty percent of sea turtles, not only in the Florida Keys, but also worldwide.