Hundreds of sea turtles have been found lifelessly floating off the coast of El Salvador. Estimates suggest that between 300 and 400 turtles have died, and no one is quite sure why.
El Salvador’s environment ministry took to Twitter yesterday to report the news, saying they had “found between 300 and 400 dead sea turtles floating around 7 nautical miles [13 kilometers or 8 miles] offshore from Jiquilisco Bay.”
Most of the turtles were decomposing when they were discovered and the environment ministry has yet to confirm which species they belong to.
“We don’t know what caused the sea turtles’ death,” they said. They are planning on carrying out laboratory tests to determine the cause of the massacre.
Speculation is that it may be the result of toxic algal blooms called red tides, which have killed numerous turtles in the past. These blooms are reddish brown in color and comprised of a few species of dinoflagellates. Red tide is believed to have caused a similar incident back in 2006, when 500 turtles died off the coast of El Salvador, killed by saxitoxin, a deadly substance produced by the algae that affects the nervous system.
Cases have occurred in a number of other countries over the years, for example in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua.
Back in 2014, 114 green and olive ridley turtles were found dead on Pacific coast beaches, again probably due to saxitoxin. However, there were speculations that humans were also to blame.
"Some say it could be due to climate change, sea currents or the techniques used by fishermen," said biologist Ivan Ramirez of the Foundation of the Sustainable Development of Nicaragua.
Sea turtles have had a bad year this year, with Hurricane Irma sweeping away many green and loggerhead turtle nests from Florida’s shores.
There are seven species of sea turtle worldwide. Along with poisonous algae, they face a number of threats, from getting stuck in fishing gear to eating ocean plastics to climate change.
All species are listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, apart from the flatback turtle for which there is not enough data.
Therefore, whichever species the recently discovered turtles belong to, it's not good news as sea turtles across the spectrum are dwindling. Hopefully, if the root cause of the deaths can be determined, steps can be taken in the future to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.