Gumbo Limbo releasing turtles after removing tumors

By Tasha Martinez

BOCA RATON, FL (WFLX) - Eleven turtles are set to be released back into the ocean this week from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton. They had surgery to remove tumors, caused by pollution, from their legs, arms and eyes.

The wart-like growths, the result of the fibropapilloma virus. "We really believe these tumors, they're really associated with polluted water," said one Gumbo Limbo employee.

That's because in areas with pollution, researchers find 70 to 75 percent of the turtles have the virus. In the ocean, it's only about four to six percent.

Gumbo Limbo is one of only four centers in the state that treat the rapidly growing disease. "The three facilities that existed before this were jam packed with patients, to the point where you have to expand."

Since the rehab facility opened in January, they've treated 177 turtles mainly due to the cold snap, the amount most centers get in five years. "We basically went over budget pretty quickly with the amount of medications and fluids and supplies we were using," said Marine Turtle Specialist Cody Mott. "So that's kind of the big thing to help the continued support of the rehab facility."

The large number of turtles delayed the opening of this area to the public until next month. But, researchers say, once they do, they hope people who come to look at these turtles will also learn how to save them.

"We really want to use this as an educational facility. If a turtle has a fishing hook stuck in it or if it's been hit by a boat, we can really show the human impact," said another Gumbo Limbo employee.

So, hopefully, these animals, who may not have made it to adulthood otherwise, in another ten years down the road, should increase the numbers," Mott explained.

Researchers at Gumbo Limbo tell us there was one good thing about the cold snap: It allowed them to tag about 4,600 turtles. They say that'll hopefully lead them to learn more about the virus and exactly what causes it.