Florida scientists studying the causes of sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico received $227,793 for the first year of an anticipated three-year, $653,379 project to determine how the red tide toxin, or brevetoxin, affects turtle health.
Endangered sea turtles inhabit areas in the Gulf of Mexico where toxic red tides are caused by algal blooms, leading to sickness and death.
Turtle deaths from red tides have spiked in recent years, threatening populations in the Gulf of Mexico. The research will advance treatment and rehabilitation procedures by predicting threatening conditions and allowing more rapid and targeted care by coastal resource managers.
Sarah Milton, a professor of biology at Florida Atlantic University, will lead the research team and will be assisted by scientists and veterinarians from Harbor Branch Institute, Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
“Sea turtles are physically robust animals, often surviving boat strikes or shark attacks, but they have proven to be highly sensitive to pollution, and are good indicators of environmental degradation,” Milton stated. “In recent years, red tide events in the Gulf of Mexico have led to hundreds of sea turtle deaths.”
Red tide also has impacts on humans — their health and, for those with ties to coastal commerce, their livelihood.