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PRESS RELEASEJanuary 27, 2003
Contact: Dorn Whitmore
Sea Turtles Suffer From ColdMerritt Island National Wildlife Refuge-Water temperatures dropped so low over the weekend that it was life threatening to sea turtles. Biologists from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and Dynamac Corp. rescued 29 juvenile green and one loggerhead sea turtles from the lagoon over the weekend. The loggerhead turtle died but the remaining green turtles all survived.
Sea turtles, like all reptiles, have no means to regulate their body temperature and when it becomes too cold they become comatose and float to the surface. Unlike their freshwater cousins, sea turtles cannot tolerate cold temperatures. If not rescued from the cold, they could die. The unconscious turtles were plucked from the water and taken to a temporary indoor facility were they are being kept warm and given care.
Fourteen of the turtles were found to be suffering from a fibropapilloma disease and have been taken to rehabilitation facilities for further care. Fibropapilloma causes tumor-like growths on the turtles and can be fatal. The disease occurs on about half of all sea turtles in the Indian River Lagoon and there is no known cause or cure. Sea Turtles found in the ocean seldom display the disease. The healthy turtles are being kept in indoor kiddy pools until they are released this week after water temperatures in the lagoon recover. One turtle will be fitted with a radio transmitter prior to release. The transmitter will provide important biological information on the turtle's movement throughout the lagoon.
The Indian River Lagoon is an important nursery for juvenile sea turtles. Over the years hundreds of juvenile turtles have been found floating in the lagoon after prolonged cold spells similar to last weekend. After hatching from Florida's beaches young hatchlings spend the first few years of life in the ocean. They float on the oceans currents which take them northward along the coast of the U. S. around to England and Spain. Young turtles spend a year or more off the coast of Africa then resume their ocean voyage where the ocean currents bring the juvenile turtles back into the Caribbean. Some find their way into the warm shallow waters of the Indian River Lagoon where they find food, cover and few enemies. Occasionally, cold snaps like the one which occurred over the weekend remind us of the tropical requirements of these marine reptiles.
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