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High levels of metal found in Queensland turtles

Green Island Turtle_2

By Rochelle Kirkham

New research shows turtles on the Great Barrier Reef are facing record-breaking health issues. 

Green turtles at Upstart Bay, south of Townsville, have been found with record high levels of cobalt in their blood and eye infections.

Alex Villa, Researcher from the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences, said turtles at Upstart Bay were found with levels 25 times higher than expected in a healthy turtle population.

“For some [turtles], cobalt levels were among the highest ever reported in vertebrates to date,” he said.

“At these blood concentrations, we would expect to see debilitating health effects in many animals, including humans.”

Although essential for health, high concentrations of cobalt is toxic to both humans and animals. Symptoms include nausea, ringing in the ears, heart muscle disease and permanent nerve damage.

Cobalt is found naturally in soil and rock and can be washed into waterways. It can also enter the environment through mining and ore smelting.

Mark Flint, School of Veterinary Science Director, said the health of turtles at Upstart Bay was comprised and impacted by an external “stressor”.

“Nearly half of turtles at Upstart Bay had elevated white cell counts, which indicates the prevalence of an active inflammatory response,” he said.

Dr Flint said of 161 turtles examined in Upstart Bay in 2016, a quarter had eye infections.

“We don’t know why this is occurring,” he said.

Source: WWF

A high number of green turtles on the Great Barrier Reef are battling eye infections. Source: WWF

“The infection appears to be bacterial and not a virus, but we don’t know what caused it in the first place.

“It could be another indication that this is a population under pressure.”

Christine Hof, WWF-Australia marine scientist said monitoring turtles is a tool to check on the health of a marine environment.

The WWF’s Rivers to Reef to Turtles project aims to identify and measure major pollutants in rivers, the Great Barrier Reef and in green turtles.

“The results from Rivers to Reef to Turtles show a wide range of chemicals, including metals, are finding their way into coastal turtles,” she said.

“Governments should be testing for many more pollutants than is currently the case.”

[Feature Image: Travis / Creative Commons]

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