Fibropapillomatosis (FP) is a terrible disease that is decimating green sea turtle populations.

FP is characterized by benign, cauliflower-like tumors that appear on the sea turtle’s soft tissue. They can form on the flippers- making swimming and diving exponentially more difficult. FP tumors may also form on the eyes or mouth, which severely limit how well a sea turtle can feed.

While boat, predator, and hook accidents are common enough symptoms for our patients, many of the sea turtles we admit for rehabilitation with these injuries also suffer from FP.

In extreme circumstances, sea turtles with advanced stage FP are unable to care for themselves in the wild without assistance.

Lucky enough, FP is treatable in many cases, and the Gumbo Limbo Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility is one of seven facilities in the state equipped to treat patients with this disease.

That means that we are uniquely suited to ensure our sea turtle patients are set for a healthy future. We can do our best to heal traumatic injuries after they occur, and also perform preventative healthcare by removing even small FP tumors before they inhibit the sea turtle’s ability to thrive.

When a sea turtle arrives at the rehabilitation facility with FP, our veterinarian will remove external tumors and treat their wounds in a quarantined environment to ensure FP does not spread to other patients. Even the water in a sea turtle’s tank runs the risk of infection, so careful steps must be taken.

The first sea turtle with FP was identified in 1938 in the Florida Keys, and the disease has since grown across global green turtle populations. In rare cases, FP may even spread to loggerheads in our waters.

While no clear cause has been identified, FP has a strong correlation with polluted warm waters, and may be related to the herpes virus. Many of the FP cases identified come from shallower bay or lagoon areas where water pollution is more prevalent.