Turtle deaths blamed on waterborne toxins

June 1, 2015

JAMESPORT, N.Y. — The damage done to the turtle population could take decades to recover.

JAMESPORT, N.Y. — Scientists believe waterborne toxins are the cause of the deaths more than 200 diamond terrapin turtles that have washed up in record numbers on Long Island recently, according to the Associated Press.

The cause of the deaths is not completely clear, but necropsies “point to saxitoin, a biotoxin produced in algae blooms that has been found in the water at 10 times the normal level,” noted the article. The poison can become concentrated in shellfish, which are then eaten by turtles.

"We're seeing bodies washing up in perfect condition," said Karen Testa, executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, in the article. “This has never happened before. It's an alarming thing.”

Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Christopher Gobler shared in the article that saxitoin is common in the area’s waters, but this occurrence is unusually high.

The contaminant is caused by red algae blooms, stated the article. Saxitoin is a dangerous neurotoxin that causes paralysis and death in animals that eat it. Humans can also be affected, but most recover in a few days.

"This is a serious threat to public health," explained Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizen's Campaign for the Environment, in the article. "It's not a joke anymore. When you have a saxitoxin that can kill humans, you need to address the cause."

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has sent the turtles’ organs for further testing, and the results should be back in a few weeks, reported the article. The damage done to the turtle population could take decades to recover.

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