(WSVN) - The 7 Investigates team has been tracking a cancer that’s been ravaging our green sea turtles. Now there are signs the disease is spreading and getting more deadly. Kevin Ozebek has more in tonight’s 7 Investigates.

She has been named Blue, and right now, Blue is in a fight for her life.

Bette Zirkelbach, The Turtle Hospital: “I mean, this is the oldest animal known to man, and for it to be affected like this by our ecosystems, I mean, it’s frightening.”

Bette Zirkelbach and her team at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon are seeing more turtles covered in tumors just like Blue. They’re suffering from a cancer called fibropapillomatosis, or FP for short.

It’s spread through a herpes-like virus and is only found in turtles that swim in polluted water.

Bette Zirkelbach: “I’m seeing more severe cases and a lot more internal tumors.”

And the internal tumors really worry Bette.

A few years ago, she was finding tumors internally in about a quarter of the turtles with FP.

But in the past year, that number has surged. Seventy percent of her FP patients now arrive with internal tumors.

Bette Zirkelbach: “It’s a hard day when you see internals, because then, you know, at least currently, we have no way to fix them.”

Bette’s team can surgically remove external FP tumors, but turtles with internal tumors have to be euthanized.

Bette showed us a CT scan of a recent rescued turtle. All of those little dots are tumors in its lungs.

Bette Zirkelbach: “It breaks my heart, and it scares me. It scares me for our oceans and our planet.”

The biologists here are finding internal tumors, not just in the turtles’ lungs, but also in their intestines, kidneys and even in their bones.

David Duffy, University of Florida wildlife cancer expert: “The Keys are essentially a canary in the coal mine for this disease. It’s the first place this disease was ever reported, and generally, what happens there has ended up spreading to other locations as well.”

David Duffy is a wildlife cancer expert. He discovered the internal tumors are genetically different from the external ones.

That makes it harder for those on the front line like Bette, because it’s now like treating two different diseases.

And the bad news doesn’t end there.

David Duffy: “Even more worryingly, we’re starting to get indications that, actually, hatchlings coming out of the nests have already been exposed to this virus.”

But there are glimmers of hope.

Sarah Milton, Florida Atlantic University: “So these turtles were exposed to a lot more sun.”

Up in Boca Raton, biologist Sarah Milton found sea turtles that had external tumors removed recovered much better under direct sunlight.

Sarah Milton: “They had a lot more vitamin D, and when you have more vitamin D, presumably it helps to boost their immune system.

Her work is paving the way to see if UV therapy could treat internal tumors.

As for Blue, tests show her red blood cell count is low.

Ian Morrison, The Turtle Hospital: “So Blue is certainly anemic.”

But her CT scan came back clean. For now, there are no signs of internal tumors.

Bette Zirkelbach: “So far, so good.”

So, despite being so weak, she’s kept in just a few inches of water. Blue is one of the lucky ones.

Kevin Ozebek, 7News.

While Blue’s story can still end on a happy note, overall, FP seems to be getting more severe. There have now been three green turtles found with FP brain tumors.


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