Hundreds of small turtles have washed up dead on the eastern end of Long Island in the last month, a die-off scientists blame on waterborne toxins that have reached unprecedented levels for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
Necropsies on some of the more than 200 diamondback terrapins found on the island’s North Fork point to saxitoxin, a biotoxin produced in algae blooms that has been found in the water at 10 times the normal level. The poison collects in shellfish, which are eaten by the turtles in brackish bays and estuaries, quickly causing paralysis and death.
Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences who has studied algal blooms off Long Island for more than 20 years, said saxitoxin is normally detected in the region’s waters, but he has never seen saxitonin this high and never seen it cause such a wildlife die-off.
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