Scientists studying red tide impact of turtles and hatchlings

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Melissa Montoya
Published: Updated:
Scientists are studying the impact of red tide toxins on turtles. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Scientists want to know the long-term effects of red tide on turtles and their hatchlings.

They are collecting data and hope to be able to report back by year’s end on what the toxins from the algal blooms did to the population of sea turtles that nest in Southwest Florida shores.

The massive red tide bloom in 2018 resulted in the “largest number of sea turtle deaths ever attributed to a single red tide event,” said Kelly Sloan, director of Coastal Wildlife and Sea Turtle Program Coordinator at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

“According to FWC, almost 1,300 sick or dead sea turtles washed ashore between October 2017 and January 2019,” Sloan said.

After that bloom, researchers at SCCF began studying whether turtles can pass down red tide toxins to their hatchlings.

Sloan said the group also wants to study the physiological impacts on the turtle hatchlings.

To do that, researchers are taking blood samples from turtles and collecting nest eggs that didn’t hatch to look for toxins.

“We are seeing toxins in both the blood and the egg samples at this point, and the next step is to start looking at the influences on the maternal health and the reproductive success,” Sloan said.

A successful understanding of red tide’s impact is vital.

“Sea turtle populations are already so stressed from a number of threats from boat strikes to water pollution, to fisheries interactions, and the list goes on and on,” Sloan said.

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