Algal Blooms Kill Hundreds of Long Island Turtles

Posted in: United States Water News, Water Contamination
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(Photo Credit: Water Online)

Article courtesy of Sara Jerome | July 8, 2015 | Water Online | Shared as educational material

Toxic water has been responsible for the death of hundreds of turtles on the eastern end of Long Island this year.

“The turtles washed up dead [in the spring], a die-off scientists blame on waterborne toxins that have reached unprecedented levels for reasons that aren’t entirely clear,” CTV News reported. “The die-off could signal trouble for fish, shellfish, and the health of local bays,” CBS News reported.

Scientists examined several turtle bodies and pinpointed saxitoxin as the cause of death. Saxitoxin is a biotoxin produced in algae blooms. “It [was] found in the water at 10 times the normal level. The poison collects in shellfish, which are eaten by the turtles in brackish bays and estuaries, quickly causing paralysis and death,” CTV News reported.

The bigger picture is that nitrogen pollution helped the algae blooms thrive, CBS New York reported. High nitrogen levels are likely “the result of pesticides from nearby golf courses, lawns, farms and septic systems infecting the delicate ecosystems of nearby harbors and bays,” Gothamist reported.

New York State shut down several fishing areas due to concerns about saxitoxin, reopening them on July 1. “Areas were all closed in May of 2015, after [state regulators] detected saxitoxin in mussel samples collected from monitoring sites in each area,” the state announced.

The turtle die-off largely affected a species called diamondback terrapins, constituting a significant loss to the local ecosystem.

“Diamondbacks are considered the puppy dogs of the turtle world. They possess personality and it’s believed are able to recognize people. Scientists say it will take a long time to recover from the turtle die-off, and decades for egg producing females to return to stable populations,” CBS reported.

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