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Research investigates red tide impacts on nesting turtles

By Staff | Jun 24, 2020

SCCF

As part of a red tide research project on the maternal health of sea turtles, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation turtle team has collected 97 samples from nesting females so far this season.

The 2017-18 red tide bloom in Southwest Florida was the longest continuous bloom since 2006 and resulted in the largest number of sea turtle deaths ever attributed to a single red tide event. The SCCF and the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife documented a staggering 256 strandings on Sanibel and Captiva alone, which accounted for seven times the five-year average.

In 2019, the SCCF Sea Turtle Program was awarded a RESTORE Act grant to study the long-term sublethal effects of red tide blooms on nesting sea turtles. Previous studies have shown that turtles test positive for brevetoxin exposure long after a bloom has dissipated.

“Our project will evaluate how toxicity affects the health and reproductive success of these vulnerable species,” SCCF Coastal Wildlife Director Kelly Sloan said.

The results from the study will make it possible to characterize how many seemingly “healthy” nesting sea turtles test positive for brevetoxin exposure and potentially suffer from impaired maternal health as a result. It will also determine whether the toxins are passed on to the hatchlings via the yolk and how the toxins affect organ development.