Scientists believe that they have finally solved the mystery surrounding the deaths of hundreds of turtles that washed up on shore in Long Island, New York. Hundreds of Diamond Back Terrapin washed onto the shore this past week leaving experts baffled as to what could have caused the death of so many of the small turtles, and citizens panicked about what a mass death of turtles like this could mean for their health and the health of the residents of Long Island.
Research leads experts to believe saxitocin is the cause
Upon examining the bodies of many of the dead creatures which were found in shockingly pristine condition, saxitoxin levels were found to be off the charts in the deceased turtles. Saxitoxin is a toxin found in shellfish, which rarely causes death in humans, but has proven to be fatal to the turtles washing up on the shore. The turtles are ingesting shellfish and other small organisms that are carrying the toxin, and it’s killing them because their bodies cannot withstand the effects of the toxins.
Origin of the toxins found in the turtles
Many experts believe that the toxin is found in the shell fish due to an increase in algae blooms which is the typical cause of the introduction of saxitoxin to the ecosystem. The shellfish in the water are consuming the algae in bloom, and the turtles are subsequently consuming the algae causing them to die off in high numbers.
An increase in algae blooms, and even small numbers of saxitoxin increasing are not uncommon. Although they are not usually seen to increase production to levels high enough to cause a mass die off such as this one. Experts are looking into the causes of the bloom which caused the deaths of hundreds of the turtles. Incidents like this are often attributed to global warming, or other environmental changes causing massive disruption.
Ecosystems are especially fragile structures in which organisms rely on each other to maintain balance, but when a poison is introduced at the basic levels of the ecosystem dramatic changes can occur, and entire species can even be lost. While it was hundreds of unfortunate turtles who washed up on the shore, any species could feel the repercussions of the saxitoxin that contains the shellfish as part of their food chain.