Health Assessment of Green Sea Turtles

Where: Puerto Rico
Continue Zoo Atlanta's efforts to support this critical conservation project.

For more than six years, Dr. Sam Rivera has worked in close collaboration with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PR-DNER) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to perform health assessments in free-ranging green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) suffering from fibropapillomatosis (FP).

Zoo Atlanta is actively involved in this project by providing veterinary expertise. Zoo Atlanta veterinarians perform health assessments, blood collection, biopsy collection, ultrasonographic examinations and surgery to remove tumors from wild turtles.

Dr. Sam Rivera, Associate Veterinarian; PR-DNER; USFWS

Fibropapillomatosis is a debilitating disease characterized by the development of numerous wart-like masses in the skin, eyes, mouth and cloaca. These masses can reach considerable size, impeding the turtles’ normal locomotion and foraging and increasing their susceptibility to entanglement. Very often these tumors can become necrotic and serve as portals of entry for secondary bacterial infections that can be lethal.
Even though all current molecular evidence points to a herpes virus as the culprit of the disease, scientists have not been able to isolate this agent yet. Epidemiologic evidence strongly suggests that an environmental component may play a crucial role in the development of the disease, as the prevalence of infected individuals tends to be higher in areas of coastline adjacent to areas of human development.