Harmful algal blooms are known to cause morbidity and mortality to a large number of marine and estuarine organisms worldwide, including fish and marine mammals, birds, and turtles. The effects of these algal blooms on marine organisms are due to the various toxins produced by the different algal species. In southwest Florida, frequent blooms of the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, which produces neurotoxins known as brevetoxins, cause widespread fish kills and affect many marine animals. In 2005–2007, numerous sea turtles of several species underwent treatment for brevetoxicosis at the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital. In green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, and Kemp's ridley sea turtles, Lepidochelys kempii, symptoms associated with brevetoxicosis were limited to neurologic signs, such as the inability to control the head (head bobbing) and nervous twitching. For these turtles, treatment involved removing the turtles from the environment containing the toxins and providing short-term supportive care. In loggerhead sea turtles, Caretta caretta, symptoms were more generalized; thus, a similar approach was unsuccessful, as was routine treatment for general toxicosis. Loggerhead sea turtles had more extreme neurologic symptoms including coma, and other symptoms that included generalized edema, conjunctival edema, and cloacal or penile prolapse. Treatment of brevetoxicosis in loggerhead sea turtles required a therapeutic regimen that initially included dehydration and systemic antihistamine treatment followed by supportive care.
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