There is a strong correlation between degraded marine habitats and the prevalence of diseases such as green turtle fibropapillomatosis (GTFP) in coastal populations. In GTFP, small to large tumors grow on the turtle's soft tissues and shell, while internal nodules may also occur. The disease primarily affects juvenile green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) that reside in nearshore waters. As a link has been shown between environmental pollution and immune suppression in a variety of animals, the objective of our research was to compare innate and adaptive immune responsiveness in green sea turtles from a severely degraded and a more pristine habitat, which differ greatly in rates of GTFP. We quantified phagocytosis by flow cytometry and performed in vitro stimulation analysis to measure activity of both the innate and adaptive immune systems in wild-caught Florida green turtles. Sea turtles from the degraded environment, both with and without visible cutaneous tumors, exhibited significantly reduced phagocytosis and stimulation indices than did those from the less polluted environment. Our results suggest that environmental factors may contribute to the development of GTFP and thus can impact the health of sea turtle populations.

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