HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's sea turtles have been stricken with chronic and often lethal tumors, and the cause is being linked to land-based pollution.
According to a new study released by the University of Hawaii, the turtles are consuming a non-native algae called "superweeds," which grow along coastlines where nutrient pollution is unchecked.
Turtles that graze on the invasive seaweed end up with a diet that is rich in a particular amino acid, arginine, which then fuels the virus that creates the tumors.
Scientists at UH Manoa are estimating that adult green sea turtles are increasing their arginine intake by up to 14 times the amount at background levels.
The algae's growth is spawned by land-based runoff and other sources of pollution such as wastewater or agricultural fertilizers.
The study also revealed that the uncommonly high levels of arginine in the tissues of the invasive seaweed that are harvested under nitrogen-rich conditions from land-based pollution, are the same conditions that promote algal blooms. The invasive algae, "superweeds," grow so fast that some can double their weight in as little as two days.
In Kaneohe Bay, more than 60 percent of turtles appeared to have tumors on their bodies. Kihei and Maui are referred to as a "ground zero" for fibropapillomatosis, the disease caused by a herpes virus and manifests as tumors in turtles. Humans appear unaffected by the disease.The disease that causes the tumors is the leading cause of death for endangered green sea turtles.