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Monitoring the health of green turtles in northern Queensland post catastrophic events

Flint, Mark, Brand, Anne-Fleur, Bell, Ian P., Madden Hof, Christine A.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.660 pp. 586-592
Chelonia mydas, albumins, anthropogenic activities, blood proteins, body condition, chemical pollutants, cobalt, creatinine, electrophoresis, enzymes, globulins, hematology, juveniles, monitoring, mortality, necropsy, reefs, turtles, Queensland
Between 2014 and 2017, the Rivers to Reef to Turtles (RRT) project examined the health of green turtles at two coastal sites impacted by urban and agricultural human activities (Cleveland and Upstart Bays) and one proposed pristine site (Howick Group of Reefs) in northern Queensland, Australia, through blood biochemistry and haematology, plasma protein electrophoresis, and clinical assessments including body condition and barnacle counts. Furthermore, cases of mortality were subjected to comprehensive postmortem examination. In an attempt to advance diagnostics, associations between specific contaminants and health of turtles in this region were tested. No comprehensive health assessments had been conducted at these sites prior to this study.The coastal Cleveland and Upstart Bays both demonstrated effects likely to be in response to stressors suspected to be anthropogenic in origin (elevated total white cell counts and creatinine kinase levels across the populations, respectively). This was associated with a suite of trace elements, in particular cobalt. While these indicators of stress resolved by the final year of the study, a chronic stressor was suspected to be persisting with ongoing low albumin: globulin. Necropsies did not elucidate any specific diseases.Although body condition index did not closely correlate with site health, barnacle counts in juvenile turtles may prove a reliable indicator of site health. Based on previously established indicators of poor health, barnacle counts showed that 10% of the population was in poor health at Upstart Bay and nearly 20% of the population at Cleveland Bay. This is above what would be expected for a normal population.Overall, the health component of this study suggested that the pristine turtle population was healthy and the coastal turtle populations were under active stressors, possibly caused by anthropogenic effectors such as chemical pollutants, when initially examined in 2014. These stressors resolved by the conclusion of the study in 2017; but chronic stressors remained absent in the pristine site and present within each of the studied coastal populations.