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Strange Herpes Virus Threatens Endangered Sea Turtles Along Texas Gulf Coast

Team of veterinarians working to remove tumors, return endangered turtles to the Gulf of Mexico

A strange virus is attacking endangered sea turtles along the Texas Gulf Coast, leaving some unable to see and eat and putting them at risk of starving to death.

A strange virus is attacking endangered sea turtles along the Texas Gulf Coast, leaving some unable to see and eat and putting them at risk of starving to death.

« They’re essentially the canaries in the coalmine for our ocean health, » said Dr. Tim Tristan, a veterinarian and director of the Texas Sealife Center in Corpus Christi.

The herpes virus, called fibropapillomatosis, causes large tumors to grow on green sea turtles, one of five species of sea turtles that live along the Texas coast.

« Some of those external masses will grow to the size of softball size, » said Tristan. « They can be under the flippers which may cause them difficulty in swimming. »

  • The FP virus does not affect people, but the rapid spread of the disease among turtles adds to concerns about other potential health threats.

    « We always recommend [people] wear footwear when you’re going either into the Gulf of Mexico, or the bay, so that you don’t cut your foot and have an open wound, » said Shaver. « There are other types of viruses and things that do occur in the water and if people have a compromised immune system it can become a problem. »

Beach patrols are now on watch for the green sea turtles to begin nesting any day now, carrying with them a possible warning as they come ashore.

« They’re giving us a signal that there is something wrong with the oceans out there, that somethings changing that we need to be aware of and we need to take notice of, » said Tristan.

The Texas Sealife Center is funded and operated from public donations. For more information, visit TexasSealifeCenter.org. The website for the Padre Island National Seashore is nps.gov/pais/index.htm