Epidemiology of Marine Turtle Disease and Mortality in Southern Queensland, Australia
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2010
Mark Flint1,2, BVSc, BSc(Hons), MApplSc, MPhil, MAIBiol; Janet C. Patterson-Kane1,3, BVSc, PhD, DACVP, MRCVS; Colin J. Limpus1,4, Dip Ed, BSc, MSc, PhD; Paul C. Mills1, BVSc, PhD, MACVSc, GCEd, MPhil (Vet Ed)
1Veterinary Marine Animal Research, Teaching and Investigation (Vet-MARTI), School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD, Australia; 2College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA; 3Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK; 4Department of Environment and Resource Management, QLD, Australia


Causes of disease and mortality in marine turtles are poorly understood. Over a 4-yr period (2006–2009), the major anomalies in blood variables and causes of stranding in green turtles (Chelonia mydas) from southern Queensland, eastern Australia, were determined. After establishing baseline values for blood variables using healthy turtles (n=211), clinically unhealthy turtles (those in poor body condition, displaying clinical abnormalities and/or having a history or current presentation of fibropapillomatosis; n=25) had blood variables outside of the reference intervals: albumin, 48% of unhealthy animals; alkaline phosphatase, 35%; aspartate transaminase, 13%; creatinine, 30%; globulin, 3%; glucose, 34%; lactic dehydrogenase, 26%; phosphorus, 22%; sodium, 13%; thrombocytes, 57%; and monocytes, 5%. Blood variables suggested abnormal function of cardiovascular, renal, hepatic and/or gastrointestinal systems.1 Primary causes of mortality in stranded turtles (n=100) were diagnosed as spirorchiidiasis (41.8%), gastrointestinal impaction (11.8%), microbiologic infectious diseases (5.2%) and trauma (5.2%). Minor contributors to mortality (36%) included multiple diffuse pathologies, respiratory, other parasitic infections, neurologic, excretory, urogenital and skeletal pathology.2 Spirorchiidiasis had (i) more observed cases of infection in summer compared with other seasons (p=0.029) and (ii) immature turtles had more severe pathology than mature turtles (p=0.032). Number of observed cases and severity of spirorchiid lesions were highest in the brain compared with heart, gastrointestinal tract and spleen (all p>0.1).2 To link findings, further investigation is required, including the examination of the role of water quality and urbanization in potentiating these syndromes.


The authors thank the Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Marine Species Recovery and Protection Grants Programme, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, SEQ Healthy Waterways, and the University of Florida for financial support.

Literature Cited

1.  Flint, M., J.M. Morton, C.J. Limpus, J.C. Patterson-Kane, P.J. Murray, and P.C. Mills. 2009. Development and application of biochemical and haematological reference intervals to identify unhealthy green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas). The Veterinary Journal: DOI: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.1006.1011.

2.  Flint, M., J.C. Patterson-Kane, C.J. Limpus, and P.C. Mills. 2010. Health surveillance of stranded green turtles in southern Queensland, Australia (2006–2009): an epidemiological analysis of causes of disease and mortality. EcoHealth. DOI: 10.1007/s10393-010-0300-7.


Speaker Information
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Mark Flint, BVSc, BSc(Hons), MApplSc, MPhil, MAIBiol
Veterinary Marine Animal Research, Teaching and Investigation (Vet-MARTI)
School of Veterinary Science
The University of Queensland
Gatton, QLD, Australia

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