Helping Endangered Sea Turtle Species

 Southwest Fisheries Science Center pic

Southwest Fisheries Science Center
Image: swfsc.noaa.gov

A graduate of Moorpark College’s Exotic Animal Training and Management Program, Josh Ruffell has over 25 years of experience working with animals in a variety of settings. Josh Ruffell specializes in working with reptiles.

After a 2004 study of data from 32 different index sites, assessors from Southwest Fisheries Science Center found a 48 to 67 percent decline in the number of nesting mature female green sea turtles over the previous three generations. That conclusion led the International Union for Conservation of Nature to list the green sea turtle as an endangered species. The decline in the green sea turtle population is attributed to the growth in commercial harvest of the turtles and their eggs as well as pollution and diseases such as fibropapillomatosis (FP), which causes tumors to form on their mouths, eyes, and skin. More than one-fifth of dead green sea turtles found in Florida from 1980 to 2005 had FP tumors.

However, a recent study published in the U.S. Geological Survey detailed a breakthrough in FP research, in which scientists successfully engineered the skin of green sea turtles in a laboratory. Consequently, they were able to grow the virus that causes the cauliflower-shaped tumors in the turtles, which in the future should lead to better-tailored treatment options for turtles affected by FP. It was the first time ever that researchers were able to grow the skin of a non-mammal.