Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory Awarded Its First Research Grant from the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program
Published: Friday, June 16, 2017
The University of Florida Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory is pleased to announce today, on World Sea Turtle Day, that it received a grant starting in May for $18,348 from the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program, which is funded by the sales of the sea turtle specialty license plate. The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory received the grant to support the creation of an improved classification system for an infectious and potentially fatal tumor found in sea turtles called fibropapilloma. Sea turtles, which are already listed as threatened and endangered, have an increased threat from these tumors, which is weakening the health of turtle populations within Florida and globally.
The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory rehabilitates sick or injured sea turtles with fibropapilloma. Once the sea turtle is healthy enough to undergo surgery, the external tumors are removed since they inhibit normal functioning such as mobility, eating and vision. The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory released nine rehabilitated sea turtles in 2016, but currently, there is no accurate way to predict the rehabilitation outcome of sea turtles afflicted by fibropapilloma. The improved classification system developed during this project will help rehabilitation managers at sea turtle hospitals everywhere prioritize the allocation of limited rehabilitation resources to maximize the success rates and return the greatest number of healthy sea turtles back into their wild populations.
The classification system will utilize state-of-the-art cancer research approaches used in human medicine to predict the outcome for turtles afflicted with fibropapilloma. Through the grant, the current fibropapilloma tumor categorization system will be improved, plus a simple genetic blood test will be developed to predict the outcome of sea turtles admitted to rehabilitation facilities. The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory is collaborating with The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Sea Turtle Healing Center at the Brevard Zoo and Boca Raton Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center on this project.
“This grant will allow us to gain unprecedented insight into this disease. In addition to understanding the genetic drivers of fibropapilloma tumors, this research will enable us to better predict which individual turtles are likely to respond well to tumor removal surgery and those which are likely to require extra care to be successfully rehabilitated,” said David Duffy, postdoctoral researcher and biologist at Whitney Laboratory.
The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory was chosen for the award through a competitive application process that is open to coastal county governments, educational institutions and Florida-based nonprofit groups striving to improve the livelihood of sea turtles and conserve Florida habitats.
Launched in 1996, the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate raises money for two important programs that benefit Florida sea turtles—the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Turtle Protection Program and the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which distributes money back to the local level for turtle conservation projects.
The sea turtle specialty plate is currently number two in sales (of 123 plate types) – behind only the University of Florida specialty plate.
“It’s rewarding to know that so many people share our concern for Florida’s sea turtles,” said David Godfrey, Sea Turtle Conservancy executive director. “What we do in this state has a dramatic impact on sea turtle populations around the world. By purchasing the sea turtle specialty plate, Floridians are voluntarily funding important programs to save these amazing creatures.”
To learn more about the Sea Turtle Grants Program and the “Helping Sea Turtles Survive” specialty license plate, visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.
Image Caption: The creation of an improved classification system by the Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory for an infectious and potentially fatal tumor found in sea turtles called fibropapilloma is funded by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at www.helpingseaturtles.org.