Diseases of Marine Turtles in Australia: The Knowns and Unknowns
IAAAM 2014
Ellen Ariel1*; Jenni Scott2; Mark Read3; Ian Bell4
1Discipline of Microbiology and Immunology, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia; 2Discipline of Anatomy and Pathology, School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia; 3Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Ecosystem Conservation and Resilience Group, Townsville, QLD, Australia; 4Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Marine Turtle Conservation, Threatened Species Unit, Townsville, QLD, Australia


Fibropapillomatosis is an easily recognisable condition that has been recorded in marine turtles resident in Australian waters for decades.1,5 Recently, a high prevalence of individuals with tumors has been noted in previously unaffected populations of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) along the Queensland coast. Spirorchid blood flukes are also a common occurrence,2,3 but their significance in terms of impact on the health of the individual turtle may be related to environmental conditions and species of fluke. Coccidial encephalitis was responsible for an epizootic in green turtles characterised by neurological symptoms and death in green turtles in Moreton Bay over a six week summer period in 1991.4 A series of extreme weather events culminating with cyclone Yasi in February 2011 were responsible for extensive destruction of seagrasses along the Queensland coast. This resulted in a dramatic loss of body condition for a high proportion of individuals in local green turtle populations and an increase in strandings of underweight animals. These animals presented with various conditions ranging from haemorrhagic enteritis, gut impactions, high Spirorchid fluke load and emaciation. Many of these conditions were likely secondary to the impacts from a lack of suitable food. When more than 80 large green turtles of healthy appearance, died in Upstart Bay between June and July 2012, with seizures observed in moribund animals, coccidiosis was considered amongst other infectious causes. Freshly dead animals were subjected to full postmortem investigation and several further analyses. To this point, the cause of the mortalities remains unknown, although a rapidly acting neurotoxic agent is suspected. The Upstart Bay incident epitomises our position on the iceberg with respect to our knowledge and understanding of marine turtle health and causative links to the local habitat. There is much we know about marine turtle health and much we appreciate that we should learn more about, but there are also the unknowns that we don't even know exist.

* Presenting author

Literature Cited

1.  Flint M, Limpus CJ, Patterson-Kane JC, Murray PJ, Mills PC. Corneal fibropapillomatosis in green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) in Australia. J Comp Pathol. 2010;142:341–346.

2.  Flint M, Patterson-Kane JC, Limpus CJ, Mills PC. Health surveillance of stranded green turtles in Southern Queensland, Australia (2006–2009): an epidemiological analysis of causes of disease and mortality. Ecohealth. 2010;7:135–145.

3.  Gordon AN, Kelly WR, Cribb TH. Lesions caused by cardiovascular flukes (Digenea: Spirorchidae) in stranded green turtles (Chelonia mydas). J Vet Pathol. 1998;35:21–30.

4.  Gordon AN, Kelly WR, Lester RJG. Epizootic mortality of free-living green turtles, Chelonia mydas, due to coccidiosis. J Wildlife Dis. 1993;29:490–494.

5.  Quackenbush SL, Work TM, Balazs GH, Casey RN, Rovnak J, Chaves A, duToit L, Baines JD, Parrish CR, Bowser PR, Casey JW. Three closely related herpesviruses are associated with fibropapillomatosis in marine turtles. Virology. 1998;246:392–399.


Speaker Information
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Ellen Ariel
Discipline of Microbiology and Immunology
School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
James Cook University
Townsville, QLD, Australia

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