DURHAM, N.C. — Pollution in urban and farm runoff in Hawaii is causing tumors in endangered sea turtles, a new study finds.
The study, published Tuesday in the peer-reviewed open-access journal PeerJ, shows that nitrogen in the runoff ends up in algae that the turtles eat, promoting the formation of tumors on the animals’ eyes, flippers and internal organs.
Scientists at Duke University, the University of Hawaii and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted the study to better understand the causes behind the tumor-forming disease Fibropapillomatosis, which is the leading known cause of death in green turtles, said Kyle Van Houtan, adjunct associate professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
“We’re drawing direct lines from human nutrient inputs to the reef ecosystem, and how it affects wildlife,” said Van Houtan, who is also a scientist in NOAA’s Turtle Research Program.
This research builds on a study published in 2010 that found the disease was more prevalent in areas with high levels of nitrogen runoff. That study hypothesized the disease might be linked to how algae that the turtles eat store extra nitrogen, and designed this study to test that idea.
“In this paper we drill down on whether excess nitrogen inputs are causing a nutrient cascade in the system that’s ending up in these tumors in green turtles,” said Van Houtan.
Read more here.
Text credit: Kati Moore
Photo credit: Chris Stankis