Tourists encountering captive sea turtles while on holiday face health risks, according to new research published this week by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
While interacting with wild sea turtles in their natural habitat is quite safe from a human health point of view, the paper demonstrates that contact with wild-caught or captive-bred sea turtles can expose tourists to toxic contaminants and zoonotic pathogens, which can jump from animals to people, such as E.Coli and Salmonella.
The paper included a case study from the Cayman Turtle Farm which highlights that the intensive and cramped conditions which the Farm works under – in both the production and front of house tourist areas – may be concentrating these pathogens and increasing the risk of illness to those people visiting the Farm.
Lead author Clifford Warwick, of the Emergent Disease Foundation, has concerns that awareness of the potential human health threats posed by facilities such as the Farm may not be well understood by healthcare professionals and public awareness may be even lower.
He added that overcoming this would be key to prevent and control the spread of sea turtle-related diseases.
Due to this low awareness, people rarely trace back or attribute their illness to a recent experience handling wild sea turtles. This, along with the often generic nature of the symptoms, makes it hard to track the full infection rates of these pathogens.
Clifford Warwick said: “The subsequent distribution of visitors exposed to turtle farm conditions may also involve opportunities for further dissemination of contaminants into established tourist hubs, including cruise ships and airline carriers."
Research echoes WSPA's concerns
The study backs up WSPA's own evidence that as well as being cruel, allowing visitors to handle sea turtles also poses a health threat to unsuspecting tourists.
Dr Neil D’Cruze, WSPA Wildlife Campaign Leader said: “WSPA hopes that the Cayman Turtle Farm recognizes that the only real way to completely remove the human health threat will be to end the ‘unique wildlife encounter’ currently at the facility and takes steps to do so, which will also immediately improve the lives of the turtles in their care."