SCCF staff return a sea turtle to the water after it recovered at CROW from red tide poisoning. Photo provided
SCCF staff return a sea turtle to the water after it recovered at CROW from red tide poisoning. Photo provided

A bloom of Karenia brevis, which began in October 2017, has resulted in the largest number of sea turtle deaths ever attributed to a single red tide event. The total number of strandings since the red tide started now stands at 242 (196 dead and 46 alive). For reference, the previous 10 year average was 31 per year.

In response, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation staff, in conjunction with data provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, created an interactive map to track the life stages and locations of stranded sea turtles. The organizations want it to demonstrate the impact of this unprecedented event on an already stressed population.

These algal blooms start in the Gulf, but are fed and perpetuated by harmfully high levels of nutrients washing into the Gulf from further inland. In June 2018 an unprecedented number of sea turtle strandings (sick, injured, or dead turtles) began washing up on Sanibel and Captiva beaches.

Sea turtles are impacted by the neurotoxins produced by red tide through ingestion of toxic prey items. Red tide poisoning presents in live turtles as loss of motor function, lethargy, and labored breathing. In time, it can lead to death. Many turtles were observed swimming in circles or flailing in the water while struggling to breathe prior to rescue.

When a stranding is reported, SCCF staff and interns mobilize to collect data and document the death as part of the National Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN). If the turtle is alive it is taken to CROW.

Click SCCF Sea Turtle Stranding Map to view it.