The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is investigating a die-off of freshwater turtles and is asking the public to assist by providing information. Dead turtles have been reported along the St. Johns River watershed including water bodies in Orange, Seminole and Putnam counties. The FWC would like to learn about any other areas of the state that may be impacted.
The FWC first received reports about dead turtles in early 2018 and has been closely monitoring the situation. Reports and surveys indicate there have been approximately 100 dead and dying turtles along the St. Johns River watershed. Scattered reports have been received from other regions in the state, such as Trout Lake near Eustis. The mortality event is primarily affecting Florida softshell turtles, one of the most common freshwater turtle species in Florida. However, a few river cooters have also been found dead.
The FWC is asking the public to help by reporting sightings of dead or dying turtles by contacting the FWC’s Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511 or submitting an online report at MyFWC.com/FishKill.
FWC biologists and veterinarians have collected samples for necropsy and diagnostics. At this time, the cause of the die-off is unknown, and FWC staff are conducting an investigation in collaboration with the University of Florida to determine the cause.
Tissue samples are being evaluated at several labs for a variety of pathogens. Although necropsy results do not suggest the mortality event is due to a toxin, tissue samples have also been submitted to a toxicology lab for evaluation. So far, toxicology tests have all been negative.
There are three native species of softshell turtle in Florida: the Florida softshell, Gulf Coast smooth softshell turtle and Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtle. The Florida softshell turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in Florida. They have fleshy shells adapted for swimming, a long neck and an elongated head with a long snorkel-like nose.