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my master's at the bijagós on green turtle fibropapillomatosis

Updated: Jan 11, 2020

My name is Jessica Monteiro, I am a Veterinarian and I was recently awarded a Master by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Lisbon in collaboration with the MARE - ISPA and the Institute for Biodiversity and Protected Areas of Guinea-Bissau. My family is Portuguese and Guinean however, before my masters, I had never visited the Bijagós archipelago. Being passionate about conservation medicine and sea turtles, the opportunity to conduct research at the Bijagós with these animals was a dream come true.

I had heard stories about the abundance of turtles feeding in surrounding waters of the Bijagós islands, yet seeing the sea turtles was another thing.

In October of 2018 and March of 2019 I travelled with the IBAP team to the westernmost islands of the archipelago; Unhocomo and Unhocomozinho, to gather data for my master thesis. My goal was to study the prevalence of fibropapillomatosis among the Bijagós green turtle population. Fibropapillomatosis is a disease that affects all sea turtle species, but mostly green turtles, and it is characterized by forming benign tumours in the soft body parts and in internal organs. If these tumours growth to much the turtles can have difficulty in seeing, breathing or swimming, and internal tumours can impede organ function.

During the two field missions we caught 25 green turtles, mostly juveniles with some sub-adults and adults. I collected skin samples from every animal for laboratory analysis, and further sampled all tumour-like formations. In the laboratory we tested for the presence of a virus, Chelonid Herpesvirus 5, which has found to be associated with Fibropapillomatosis disease. Of these 25 turtles 6 presented tumours and tested positive for the virus.

During the fieldwork I was integrated in a team with conservationists from the IBAP, researchers from Portuguese universities and members of the local communities of the Bijagós - a great experience!

My study permitted to establish a baseline on the disease prevalence, and the first report of the virus in this region. Fibropapillomatosis is a threatens turtles on an individual scale, nevertheless, understanding its impact on the population is fundamental for creating long-lasting conservation plans for the marine turtle population worldwide and conserving the efforts in place in Guinea-Bissau.

Author: Jessica Monteiro


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