Australia’s Great Barrier Reef may be contaminated, at least that’s what turtle herpes outbreak suggests. This has raised concerns for the health of the reef after it suffered massive coral bleaching brought about by human-induced climate change. Reports suggest that turtle numbers in the reef is dropping at an alarming rate. Abandoned fishing nets and starvation are causing havoc.

The Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is now looking for ways to control the increasing number of injuries suffered by the turtles as a result of boat strikes and fishing nets. The centre has been taking care of injured turtles for the past 16 years. However, they are of the opinion that growing numbers are being brought to them who are at the brink of starvation.

Moreover, tumours are crippling the green sea turtles on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef due to rising pollution levels. The turtles are suffering from a turtle-specific herpes virus that causes fibropapillomatosis. Disfiguring tumours are appearing on their internal organs, shell, tail, flippers and eyes.

Even though the tumours are benign, they can grow up to 30 centimetres in size and completely block the turtles’ vision. This makes it difficult for the turtles to find food or spot predators and boats.

Karina Jones of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, said that the turtles with the tumours are more vulnerable to infections. The severely infected ones “are quite skinny and have other pathogens affecting them” and that’s why they die.

“We see these tumours in turtles in very localised hotspots around the world where there is heavy human activity ... We think there must be some external trigger that causes the tumour development,” Jones told New Scientist.

Marine biologist and co-founder and director of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Jennie Gilbert, believes that the cause of starvation of the turtles is mainly because of food-supplying seabeds are not recovering after a series of cyclones. Sea-crust beds in Townsville north are the most-affected.

“It really is a problem. We've had a couple of turtles that have died, we've opened them up and they're full of fishing line ... And I think people… have to take a step back and say, ‘Let’s dispose of this responsibly and let's do this before we actually lose so many animals that we may get to a stage of extinction,’” Gilbert told the ABC.