Strange virus may be killing turtles in St. Johns River

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says an unknown virus may be to blame for hundreds of turtles dying in the St. Johns River.

According to a spokesperson for the commission, scientists at the University of Florida have identified a novel virus in 18 dead turtles discovered along the river. They say the virus seems to be a common link in the samples.

Since last March, FWC says more about 300 fresh-water softshell and cooter turtles have been reported dead or sick in the massive river. Experts say it doesn’t appear the toxic algae is contributing to the deaths, nor do any other types of animals seem to be affected.

The commission says they will continue to take samples and study the virus in order to learn more about what’s going on.

They ask the public to assist them by reporting any sick or dead turtles they may locate along the river or its waterways. FWC says people should take the following actions:

  • Report sightings of sick or dead turtles to the FWC by calling: 352-339-8597 or through the FWC Reporter App. Photos can be uploaded via the Reporter App and will aid researchers in turtle species identification and condition.
  • Do not touch or attempt to move sick turtles.
  • Do not eat turtles that appear sick or unhealthy.

To prevent the virus from spreading, wildlife officials say freshwater turtles should not be captured or released in new locations. Investigators plan more studies to better understand the virus.