Claim: Climate causes Deadly Turtle Herpes

 This Hawaiian green turtle is severely afflicted with fibropapillomatosis. The mouth tumors, which are unique to Hawaiian greens, can also occur inside the mouth and throat, impairing breathing and eating. The eye tumors impair vision and can blind the turtle. The large tumors around the flippers can impair swimming. Although FP tumors are benign, they can easily be a significant factor in a turtle's death. Author Peter Bennett & Ursula Keuper-Bennett, source Wikimedia

This Hawaiian green turtle is severely afflicted with fibropapillomatosis. The mouth tumors, which are unique to Hawaiian greens, can also occur inside the mouth and throat, impairing breathing and eating. The eye tumors impair vision and can blind the turtle. The large tumors around the flippers can impair swimming. Although FP tumors are benign, they can easily be a significant factor in a turtle’s death. Author Peter Bennett & Ursula Keuper-Bennett, source Wikimedia

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.

Read more: http://the-japan-news.com/news/article/0002734016

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.

59 thoughts on “Claim: Climate causes Deadly Turtle Herpes

  1. Maybe the turtles are getting too much attention from marine biologists. Just like frog researchers transmitted deadly fungal infection to the tree frogs the were traipsing after, plus how Antarctic researchers interfered with the reproduction of penguins that they were bothering. Bleeding hearted environmentalists loving the animal kingdom to death.

    • That was the thought that occurred to me too. Turtles are being scientifically messed around from the day the egg is laid. It may even be the case that the virus was introduced by the researchers in the first place.

      • All of these are reasonable speculations — but only the ones where capitalist man are to blame seem to get media mention. I spent 20 years battling the bias and finally gave up. TV was the worst because the producers are overwhelmingly late-20s females who gobble up this nonsense. You certainly can’t have a rational, science-based discussion.

        I want to know what happened to the “observe but don’t interfere” ethic of naturalists/wildlife types seen the middle 20th century? We could watch, but not touch. Now the wildlife biologists aren’t observing, they are actively interfering with mother nature, treating for natural diseases and operating on individual animals as routine. Bat white-nose disease is typical of this shift in ethic — “we have to do something!” and “This is a serious crisis.” Maybe. But what if what Mother Nature deems necessary is a good, old fashioned mass disease die-off? Just seems so arbitrary now.

    • At times I wonder why a lot of the research seems to correlate with interesting places to see. There seems to be zero interest in studying species closer to home or is that the domain of a state agency?

    • The increased incidence may be because word has spread that
      he is treating these turtles with laser surgery. Seems like it
      could be he is seeing more but it may not mean there actually
      are more.

  2. You too can be brilliant in any field you choose … just blame everything bad on global warming, no thought required, which seems to be a responsibility from which so many seem to flee as thought requires effort.

  3. “then cuts off the cauliflower-like growths with a carbon dioxide laser.”
    No wonder the disease is spreading!

  4. Everything bad gets blamed on global warming. Why doesn’t global warming ever get credit for any of the good things that have happened, such as increased life expectancy, lower infant deaths, greater food production, and advances in science, technology, and education that could only have happened with abundant sources of energy from fossil fuels?

    • “Why doesn’t global warming ever get credit for any of the good things that have happened …”

      Well, Louis, that would be way off message. How can one get people to dismantle their industrial society and shiver in the dark if one tells them of the good things?

    • H.L. Mencken understood why: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    • Here are the real Sharks : 7th day of the South Africa’s official dietary guidelines are looking more like ‘misguidelines’. University of Cape Town emeritus professor Tim Noakes spent much of the sixth day of the Health Professions Council of SA (HPCSA) hearing against him probing the underbelly of these guidelines and finding found them wantings However, over the last 60 years, food companies have honed the tastiness of their products such that we cannot help but get fat from constant snacking on delicious foods. The toxic nature of these foods (not just cereal products, but also trans fats, processed carbs and sugars), makes us sick, driving us to seek pharmaceutical remedies.

      This vicious downward spiral has had a terrible consequence for our health, while creating multi-billion dollar opportunities for the food processing and pharmaceutical industries.

  5. Funding Funding Funding.

    Slap climate change on to the end of you study and hey presto, an extra few hundred k.

    To relate the spread of herpes in turtles to “climate change”.. am scratching my head here, how do these people have jobs!

    • Presumably no funding was available for this type of turtle herpes until it was linked with supposed global warming, then the troughs full of cash were pushed out, along with the sign, ‘Help yourself.’

      I think the most likely reason for these nasty growths is these green turtles (almost unknown in Florida a few decades ago) are trying to occupy a hostile ecological niche. In other words, there is something (a parasite, bug, or worm) in Florida’s waters that does this species of turtle a power of no good. However, there are definitely no grants for researching that.

  6. There is obviously far too much casual sexual liaison amongst the turtle community, in the majority of instances intimacy being unprotected. This is a clear opportunity for Planned Parenthood to widen their horizons and start to investigate safe sex for turtles.

  7. How ironic…CO2 is causing Glo.Bull Warming….Glo.Bull Warming is causing turtles to get Herpes….Use CO2 laser to remove Herpes…D’oh !!

  8. “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.

    Green sea turtles were first listed as endangered species in 1976, but are now nesting in record numbers — 28,000 nests counted last year in Florida, up from fewer than 500 decades ago.

    • WordPress messed up the remainder:

      Let’s see — in 20 years incidence of the disease (anecdotal from one vet) has increased by a factor of 4. And in “decades” (from the text I’m assuming at most 40 years, from 1976) turtle nests have gone from 500 to 28,000 — an increase by a factor of 56.

      What am I missing here? Adjusted for population, the tumors are up to14 times less prevalent today relative to 20 years ago.

      • I want to know who is trapping/catching all these turtles? Do they bring in only the diseased ones? What percentage of the caught turtles have herpes?

        I was pretty sure that it was illegal to net/trap/catch sea turtles of almost any stripe.

        Anyway, the real data shows that the waters of the Florida Keys have not warmed, much if any, over the last twenty years — so it is unlikely to be the cause. Skyrocketing populations however, increasing population density, will spread this ubiquitous green turtle disease.

  9. “When I first started here 20 years ago, I would do six to eight of these a month, ….. Now we are doing six to eight a week,” said veterinarian Doug Mader.

    By that metric the problem would no longer exist if people just stopped bringing in diseased turtles!

    But then you read further in the linked article, owner Richie Moretti said 75,000 people visited last year alone, fully funding a hospital that currently hosts more than 60 turtles and costs about $1.5 million a year to operate.

    Now it all makes sense, they’ve made this into a money making operation. Tying in global warming doom will get them even more exposure to grow their operation!

    • They need more money to help the poor turtles. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon beamed with pleasure during a visit to Ottawa, Trudeau pledged that Canada intends to “re-engage robustly” with the international body. And he confirmed earlier promises to seek a spot on the UN Security Council as soon as possible. The Bonk came for more money i.e. Climate Change. P.S. I personally experienced climate Hoax this weekend; Montreal went from – 41c with wind chill to + 3c in 2 days. Maybe it was WEATHER.

  10. Oct 28, 2015 – A man from Brunswick was sentenced to 21 months in prison for stealing viable sea turtle eggs from Sapelo Island, Georgia; You get the death sentence in Florida.

    • And don’t try to ride a manatee. I seriously doubt there’s been much or any warming in the keys. Show me the data. The water gets quite warm there already

    • But if a wind power generator kills them by the gross, it is a regrettable sacrifice that they make for the agenda. Curiously, beating a pregnant woman so badly that she loses her child has a lesser penalty than killing a manatee or bald eagle, etc.

  11. Herpes viruses are everywhere. Sometimes they get out of hand, but more often they are mild – almost benign. Ask rather why this particular turtle can’t seem to cope as well as his siblings.
    Worldwide, the rate of human herpes infection is around 90%. Although many people infected with herpes develop labial or genital lesions, the majority are either undiagnosed or display no physical symptoms—individuals with no symptoms are described as asymptomatic or as having subclinical herpes.

    • I think this is outstanding. Now I can tell my girlfriend that I got herpes from global warming and not the cute young thing in the apartment across the hall.

  12. “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.”

    Research quoted indicates 3 possible causes, of which global warming is just one of the 3. Regarding temperature, turtles don’t live in the air, they live in the water – so why are you quoting global warming figures (of course, only those from RSS)? Water temperatures in Florida have gone up for 2F, and most of that increase has occurred since the 1970s – that’s a huge increase: http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article.asp?ID=3996&from=rss_home#.VsNbYfJ97IU

    • The talk about warming is nonsensical. Viruses aren’t that sensitive to temperature change. Blaming it on effluent also doesn’t make any sense unless they have measured carcinogens.

      Since this is a virus-caused tumor, the obvious place to start is with infection vectors. A far more likely source is that it’s spread by the marine biologists due to the amount of handling these turtle receive. Also, since they are removing the warts, they are preventing the infected turtles from dying out of the population, allowing them to continue to spread the disease instead of the infection burning out. Turtle leaches were mentioned too, and I think that’s possible, but it’s beyond my ability to evaluate.

      The straightforward causes fall clearly on the shoulders of the people who are “helping” the turtles. The idea that it’s linked to warming or pollution is just nonsensical.

      • “Viruses aren’t that sensitive to temperature change.”

        It’s not the viruses, it is the immune systems of the turtles that is sensitive to temperature change. Higher temperatures of turtles, especially when they are younger, = weaker immune systems. This has been well documented and proven. From a research paper: “We incubated eggs at three ecologically relevant temperatures to determine how incubation temperature affects the immune function of hatchling soft-shelled turtles, Pelodiscus sinensis. When exposed to bacterial infections, hatchlings from 24 °C had lower cumulative mortalities (55%, therefore, higher immunocompetence) than those from 28 °C (85%) or 32 °C (100%).” At higher temperatures, survival rates are lower and immune systems are weaker. The study is here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4450580/

        “Since this is a virus-caused tumor, the obvious place to start is with infection vectors. A far more likely source is that it’s spread by the marine biologists due to the amount of handling these turtle receive.”

        This makes no sense. First, they are only taking in the sick turtles, not the healthy ones. Second, when they treat them, they do not release them back into the sea. They put them in holding pens and keep them there for a year. If (and only if) they remain tumor free throughout that period, are they then released back into the ocean. http://www.thestar.com.my/news/environment/2016/02/07/sea-turtles-with-tumors-fill-florida-hospital/

        “The idea that it’s linked to warming or pollution is just nonsensical.”

        Wrong, as I have shown above, it makes perfect sense and has already been tested in controlled environments. On the other hand, your postulation that this is caused by the biologists is nonsensical.

      • 24C to 32C? If you boil the baby turtles by raising their temperature by 15F they become sickly. That’s not science, that’s basic sense. Furthermore, that study was on incubation temperature, which is carefully regulated by the timing of mating season and burying of eggs. That research is simply not applicable to juvenile or adult turtles in the ocean. Besides, the Florida waters have not risen by a fraction of that amount.

        Thank you for the information on the operation. However, I still would not rule out researchers spreading infections as they are constantly handling turtles in the wild. Once they get to the center, probably not, though I question whether a year is sufficient period of quarantine. At least in humans, herpes tumors (and numerous other viruses, Varicella comes to mind) can go dormant for years and then reactivate. Has this been studied in turtles? I can’t find anything.

        Finally, as has been pointed out multiple times in this thread, the population of turtles has been booming, so much that if the infection rate was constant, that could account for the increase of incidence by itself. Furthermore, higher population density increases the spread of diseases.

        It seems very premature to blame this on ocean warming rather than practically anything else.

      • 3 potential causes were mentioned, not 1, so I don’t know why you keep implying that the scientists are trying to place all the blame on warming.

        You say researchers are constantly handling turtles in the wild. Where is your evidence that researchers are contacting healthy turtles after touching infected ones? The clinic treats 8 turtles a week, or 400 a year. The article notes that roughly half the population is affected, or 14,000 of a total of 28,000 (and that is just females). So the disease is clearly an issue in a far greater number of turtles than the center handles. Turtles are solitary creatures, so even with 28,000 nests along an entire coastline, it does not follow that there would necessarily be an uptick in transmission from turtle to turtle.

        Yes, the paper covered a larger temperature range than Florida waters have experienced, but it did show a correlation between higher temps and weakened immune systems.The eggs gestate in the female turtles for several months before being deposited on the beach, so it is logical that increased ocean temps would adversely affect the immune systems of the turtle eggs before they are deposited on the beach.

      • Chris. I was concerned about high interaction with healthy animals before they get to the clinic. They don’t tell where they find the sick turtles, but if those people looking for them are touching healthy turtles are well (which seems far more likely than not), you have your source.

        As for pollution (whether agricultural, industrial, or residential, it’s still effluent, that’s one source, not two). Why would it? That makes even less sense than the warming because it’s the wrong correlation. If that was the case, we would have had this problem ever worse in the 1980s. Industrial runoff, which is most likely to be carcinogenic, has decreased over the time period, and it has especially dropped around America, where the article is located. Civil sewage and agricultural effluent’s primary problem is algae blooms causing oxygen deficiency. There’s just no connection between that and viral infection.

        Finally, considering that the doctor references a notable difference between now and 2012 (referencing that back then it was rare to see turtles with tumors on both eyes), that’s clearly too short a time frame to be due to any of the listed reasons.

      • Ben, I don;’t think they have scuba divers going out to sites, that would be incredibly expensive given the huge coastline. This article mentions a fleet of ambulances in addition to the staff of 18. It makes no mention of divers or boats, which you think it would if they had sea operations as well. My guess is that when turtles come ashore injured or weak, calls are placed to the clinic, and they come collect them, Given the gloves you see them wearing, it seems to me they are pretty careful in the handling. Yes, bad handling could be a possible vector, but it seems like one of the easiest things to avoid in this era of very cheap plastic gloves.

        As far as runoff or effluent, I agree that that should be less of a problem now, but in Florida I am not sure. Gov Scott is known as a staunch anti environmentalist, so I don’t know if he has pushed through legislation. Here is a paper that discusses the problems caused by septic tanks, which are still in use by large numbers of homeowners: http://www.floridaplanning.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Sewage-Pollution-Eutrophication-in-Floridas-Coastal-Waters-Brian-Lapointe.pdf

        Lastly, another article I found states this: “Fibropapillomatosis was first documented in sea turtles in the 1930s, and is pervasive in warm waters around the world.” So if it is pervasive in warm waters, it stands to reason that increasing water temps would make the problem worse.

        Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-02-sea-turtles-tumors-florida-hospital.html#jCp

  13. The problem, Chris, is that there really is no research to support even those three “three possible causes” — other than speculation, perhaps based on correlation. I’m sure if we had a few beers, we could come up with half a dozen more “possible causes.” Would any of these speculations be accurate? Who knows because there is no research to falsify any of these hypotheses.

    They are reasonably sure that the tumors are caused by the virus because they find it in the tumors in abundance, but why the apparent increase in incidence among turtles (now at an guestimated half)? Surely population density is playing a role, but is it a cause of the increase or an excacerbation? Did the virus recently undergo a mutation that caused an increase in virulence? Without samples and viral genetic analysis, it’s just speculation.

    You assumed that “research” pintpointed possible causes, but it didn’t. There seems to be more disease, what might have cuased that? Maybe _____, _______, & ________. But scientifically, we have NO CLUE!

      • Sigh. Chris, I’m with Ben: you are reading WAY too much out of very crude research with incubation temps of turtle eggs and immunocompetence against bacteria. Apples and oranges.

        You also don’t seem to know how news works or what this turtle center is doing. They are trolling for earned media. They got it. Nothing wrong with it. Certainly helps cover the cost of a cause in which I’m sure they are dedicated. My sister-in-law is a vet, occasional wildlife vet, too. All of that costs $$ and is not unworthy.

        But don’t confuse the press release speculations of the turtle center veterinarians as to why they are seeing more tumors with actual “research” or empirical evidence that warmer temps cause tumor disease increases. They don’t have any, haven’t shared any, and nor have you.

        You are speculating. Nothing wrong with that, that’s how all good science starts. For it to be scientific, however, you now have to set out to disprove your hypothesis (that warming temps have caused an increase in viral tumors). That is how real science works — falsification. If you can’t disprove/falsify a hypothesis, despite your best efforts, it might make it up to a working theory. Proven? Hardly ever used in real science.
        Cheers,
        Alex

      • Alex, the female turtles are in the ocean during gestation. So ocean temps would have an impact on the immune systems of the eggs prior to being deposited on the beach, since the turtles are swimming around in those waters for the 2 months (or longer) gestation period. So it is not apples and oranges.

        I actually do know how news works, Alex. But for the turtle population to be experiencing a 50% infection rate is newsworthy. It is also very logical for the question to be asked as to what may be causing the problem. I never said there was a 100% link to warming waters. But this post by Eric Worrall attempted to discredit that idea entirely. He did so by referring to global temperatures, and air temperatures at that. There is 0 logic behind that, and yet I noticed that no other commenters called him out on that. It appears that rigorous scrutiny is applied to AGW comments but not the contrary. Interesting……

  14. We are told that mankind causes every thing bad. So just who has been ‘humping ‘ a turtle? And then there are those Koalas. Are we a world of horny bastards or are some impotent @#$% ones just cooking up stories from their own imagination?

    Sigh … :-)

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