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NOAA awards grant to save endangered sea turtles

Florida scientists and veterinarians studying the causes of sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico have been awarded $227,793 for the first year of an anticipated three-year, $653,379 project to determine how the red tide toxin, or brevetoxin, affects turtle health.

Endangered sea turtles inhabit areas in the Gulf of Mexico where toxic red tides are caused by algal blooms, leading to sickness and death. Turtle deaths from red tides have spiked in recent years, threatening populations in the Gulf of Mexico. This research will advance treatment and rehabilitation procedures by predicting threatening conditions and allowing more rapid and targeted care by coastal resource managers.

Sarah Milton, Ph.D. professor of biology at Florida Atlantic University, will lead the research team and will be assisted by scientists and veterinarians from Harbor Branch Institute, Mote Marine Laboratory and Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

“Sea turtles are physically robust animals, often surviving boat strikes or shark attacks, but they have proven to be highly sensitive to pollution, and are good indicators of environmental degradation,” said Milton. “In recent years, red tide events in the Gulf of Mexico have led to hundreds of sea turtle deaths.”

The project was funded through a national competition of the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) Program run by NOAA’s National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.

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