MIAMI, AUG. 28 -- Mysterious tumors are threatening the green turtle population around the world and a small Florida hotel has turned itself into a makeshift laboratory to help discover why.
Many experts fear the cause will turn out to be pollution of the oceans by various toxic compounds. The toxins, in turn, may be weakening the turtles' immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to viral infections that cause the tumors, which resemble giant warts.
"We think it's a naturally occurring disease, but pollution of offshore areas" has made it epidemic, said Elliott Jacobson, a veterinarian specializing in reptiles at the University of Florida.
The disease, fibropapilloma, causes tumors to grow both inside and outside the turtles. Unlike cancerous tumors, the growths do not metastasize, or spread, but the tumors get so large that they eventually do fatal damage.
Many starve because the tumors have covered their eyes, preventing them from finding food.
"You can tell it is starving when you pick it up. The shell is all concave," said Tina Brown, who has created the self-styled turtle lab with her boyfriend, Richie Moretti, owner of the Hidden Harbor Hotel.
Brown and Moretti turned the tidal pool behind his 21-unit hotel in the Florida Keys into a saltwater aquarium, and the hotel guests now see a stream of schoolchildren and turtle biologists, both amateur and professional, on the property.