New SCCF Stranding Map documents mass mortality of sea turtles
A bloom of Karenia brevis starting in October 2017 has resulted in the largest number of sea turtle deaths ever attributed to a single red tide event, according to experts.
The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation reported that the algal blooms start in the Gulf of Mexico, but they are fed and perpetuated by high levels of nutrients washing in from farther inland.
In June, an unprecedented number of sea turtle strandings – sick, injured or dead – began washing up on Sanibel and Captiva beaches. When a stranding is reported, SCCF’s staff and interns mobilize to collect data and document the death as part of the National Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. If the turtle is still alive, it is taken to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife for rehabilitation.
Sea turtles are impacted by the neurotoxins produced by red tide through ingestion of toxic prey items. Red tide poisoning presents in live turtles as loss of motor function, lethargy and labored breathing. In time, it can lead to death. Many turtles were observed swimming in circles or flailing in the water while struggling to breathe prior to rescue.
The total number of strandings since the red tide started in 2017 currently stands at 242 – 196 dead and 46 alive. In comparison, the previous 10-year average was 31 strandings per year.
SCCF staff, in conjunction with data provided by CROW, has created an interactive map to track the species, life stages and locations of stranded sea turtles in an effort to demonstrate the impact that the unprecedented event has had on an already stressed population. To view the map, visit sccf.org and click on the “Our Work” tab, followed by “Sea Turtles.”
Anyone who observes a sea turtle in distress is asked to contact SCCF’s sea turtle hotline at 978-728-3663 (SAVE-ONE). For more information about the SCCF, visit online or call 239-472-2329.