Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Scientists in Florida have suggested that global warming might be partly responsible for a surge in fibropapillomatosis, a nasty condition in which turtles sprout life threatening tumours, believed to be caused by a close relative of the Herpes virus.
MARATHON, Fla. (AFP-Jiji) — The young patient writhes on the operating table, kicking its flippers. A team of medical attendants turns it over, revealing an underbelly cluttered with tumors, some as big as golf balls.
This endangered green sea turtle, about 2 years old and too young for the staff to know yet whether it is male or female, is infected with fibropapillomatosis, a potentially deadly disease caused by a type of herpes virus.
Experts still don’t understand quite how the virus spreads, or what causes it, though some research has pointed to agricultural runoff, pollution and global warming.
As the population of green sea turtles rebounds in and around the Florida Keys, cases of fibropapillomatosis have exploded too, filling the corridors of the United States’ oldest rescue and rehab facility, known simply as the Turtle Hospital.
“When I first started here 20 years ago, I would do six to eight of these a month,” said veterinarian Doug Mader, as he injects a local anesthetic, then cuts off the cauliflower-like growths with a carbon dioxide laser.
“Now we are doing six to eight a week,” he said as the air fills with the smell of saltwater, alcohol wipes and burning flesh.
“I have this horrible feeling that as the oceans warm we are going to see more and more disease,” he [Mader] said.
What astonishes me about this sad story, is the immediate attempt to pin the blame on global warming, based on what seems to be very flimsy evidence.
According to Wikipedia, this disease is believed to be spread by turtle leaches – but nobody seems to know for sure. There is even uncertainty about whether the disease is triggered by herpes virus. Yet despite this apparent complete lack of hard data, out pops the global warming / its all our fault catchall.
Then of course, there is the inconvenient fact that there hasn’t been any significant global warming for the last 20 years.
Surely a more logical explanation for increased incidence of this nasty sounding disease is simply that there are more turtles. Whatever the transmission vector, having more turtles in close proximity is also likely to be helping the spread of the disease. Higher population densities might also be creating the right conditions for more virulent strains of the disease to emerge; deadly diseases thrive in overcrowded populations.