Why Howzit Is Dying

This was one of the first pages posted when Turtle Trax went online on May 21, 1995. As you read this story, remember that a lot has changed since then.

When we originally wrote about Howzit, no one knew whether the tumors would eventually kill all the turtles, but many people (including scientists) thought it could happen.

The good news is that the latest research shows that although many turtles still get tumors, a lot of them get better.

The bad news is that some of the turtles still die.

Whether turtles get better depends a lot on how big they are when they get tumors. Big and even medium-sized turtles have a good chance to recover.

Sadly, small young turtles like Howzit are more likely to catch the disease. They also have a much harder time getting better, probably because they have not grown strong enough.

In the area where Howzit lived, most little turtles do not survive. We know this because we have been keeping records since 1989.

There are many safe places for young turtles in Hawaii, however. Not every place is like Howzit's home. Studies show that there are more Hawaiian turtles every year. Young turtles must be surviving somewhere.

Today, most of the turtles in this area now either do not have tumors or have recovered from them--but that is partly because the sickest turtles probably died.

The water that Howzit lived in is probably cleaner than it used to be. No one has ever been able to prove that pollution or anything from the land causes the tumors.

No one has ever discovered how the disease spreads, but it is not as easy for the turtles to catch the tumors from each other as was first thought.

There is still no cure.

This is a sad story about green sea turtles.

Green sea turtles all over the world are dying from a disease. The name of the disease has many letters in it. It is very hard to say. The turtle disease is fibropapilloma (FY bro PAP il LO ma) tumors.

Fibropapillomas are very serious. Turtles can die from them. When turtles have the disease they get ugly white lumps. These lumps are the tumors. Tumors grow on the soft body parts of turtles. This is what they look like.

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When turtles have the disease they get ugly white lumps.

As the turtle gets sicker, more and more tumors grow. The tumors can get as big as a head of cauliflower. Tumors can grow over a turtle's eyes and blind it. Tumors can make it hard for turtles to swim and find food. Tumors make it much harder for a turtle to survive.

Younger turtles are called juveniles (JOO ven niles). Many juvenile turtles are dying from this disease. Fibropapillomas are especially hard on them.

Here is a map of the world showing all the places where sea turtles with fibropapillomas have been found.

The places where sea turtles with fibropapillomas have been found.
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There are turtle scientists all over the world trying to stop the disease. Dr. Larry Herbst is one scientist who studies fibropapillomas. Each red dot on this map is a place where he has found out that the turtles have tumors. Dr. Herbst and other scientists know fibropapillomas can kill sea turtles. They think it is a sad way for a turtle to die.

Some turtle scientists have noticed that the disease often shows up where the ocean water is bad. Ocean water isn't naturally bad. People make it that way by not being careful.

Many people are careless and let sewage go right into the ocean. They think the ocean is big and can hold a lot of sewage. Many countries treat the ocean like a watery garbage dump.

Animal sewage also gets into the ocean. Sometimes rain washes manure into a stream that runs into the ocean. Sometimes it runs into ditches that lead to the ocean.

Most farmers use chemicals to kill bugs and grow crops. When it rains, these chemicals can wash out of the plants and soil. From there it runs into ditches or streams. If this drains into the ocean, it is called run-off. This can be as bad for the turtles as sewage is.

Turtle scientists are finding many sick turtles around places where there are sewage and run-off problems. Many scientists are working hard to help turtles by telling people not to pollute the ocean.

This story is about one turtle but it is too late to help him. The turtle's name is Howzit. He is a Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. Howzit first settled down to live in Hawaii in 1992.

Here is a video picture of Howzit when he was very little. We took this picture in 1992.

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A video picture of Howzit when he was very little.

Howzit made a bad choice. He made Honokowai (Ho no KO why) on Maui, Hawaii, his home. This is a place where there are lots of water problems. Even worse, Howzit decided to live with a lot of turtles who have fibropapillomas.

This was bad because scientists think the disease is contagious (CON tay jus). Contagious means "spread by close contact." Unfortunately, turtles like to be with other turtles. When turtles get close together, they can catch contagious diseases from each other.

One place they get together is called a cleaning station. The turtles like to go to a cleaning station to get their shells cleaned. At a cleaning station, there are fish who like to clean turtle shells. Some of the fish like to clean the turtle all over.

Poino, one of Howzit's friends, being cleaned by fish.
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This is a picture of Poino, one of Howzit's friends, being cleaned by fish. You can tell he really likes to be cleaned. He is sticking his head straight up to let the fish know he wants to be cleaned.

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A video picture of Howzit in 1993.

This is a video picture of Howzit in 1993. He was growing very well but 1993 was not a good time for him and his friends. In July there was a very heavy rain that turned Howzit's water red and dirty for many months. People had built ditches by Howzit's home. The ditches sent soil right into his ocean during the heavy rain.

All the turtles had red shells.
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No one really knows all the bad things that get flushed into the ocean from the ditches. This is a picture of another friend of Howzit's after that heavy rain. All the turtles had red shells. That is because the soil was red. The soil settled on the backs of the turtles.

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Howzit in 1994.

Here is Howzit in 1994. His eyes looked strange. His neck had a small white spot on it. His shoulders had white spots. Sometimes when a turtle has these spots it means it is beginning to get the tumor disease. Some lucky turtles have white spots that go away and cause no harm at all.

Only when the white spots get bigger and lumpy can you be sure a turtle really has fibropapillomas. Fibropapillomas often grow in the eyes first. We were worried about Howzit in 1994--very worried.

In 1995 we were very sad to see Howzit. The small happy turtle we knew in 1992 was now very sick. There was no doubt he had the disease. We were surprised at how fast the disease was hurting him. He had tumors on both eyes. (Remember his eyes looked funny in 1994. It must have been the very beginning of tumors.)

His neck had a larger white lump now. Some of the white spots on his shoulders were now bigger lumps too. He had many tumors growing. Worst of all, Howzit was very, very skinny. He was so skinny his bottom shell, the plastron (PLAS tron), was all shrunken in. It looked like he was starving.

He was so skinny his bottom shell, the plastron, was all shrunken in.
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He spent most of his time lying on the bottom sleeping. This is not normal for healthy happy turtles. Howzit is not healthy or happy. He is very sick. We don't think he will be alive when we visit the turtles again in 1996. We do not think Howzit has enough energy left to live until then.

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Howzit and another young turtle who also came to live in the same area in 1992.

Here is a picture of Howzit and another young turtle who also came to live in the same area in 1992. The turtle's name is 4-Spot. We called her 4-Spot because her shell had four white spots on it. This picture shows how healthy 4-Spot was when we first saw her in 1992.

This picture shows how healthy 4-Spot was when we first saw her in 1992.
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Now compare this picture of 4-Spot from July 1995:

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Compare this picture of 4-Spot from July 1995.

Yes, both Howzit and 4-Spot became really sick in just three years. That is why scientists are so worried about fibropapillomas. The disease can make turtles sick very fast.

A brand new turtle in Howzit's ocean.
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This is a picture of a brand new turtle in Howzit's ocean. This turtle has also decided to make Honokowai her home. People are working very hard to clean up Howzit's ocean. They are building basins to hold back storm water. They are trying hard to fix the problems with sewage. They know run-off should not get in the water.

We think it is too late to help Howzit. We hope we are wrong. We hope we will see Howzit next year and that he will be better. We just don't think this will happen. We think about Howzit a lot.

Many, many people care about turtles. Turtle scientists are working very hard in Hawaii and Florida to find what causes the disease. There are others who are fighting to improve Howzit's ocean. We hope one of you reading this will decide to learn about turtles and the ocean.

You can become a turtle scientist just like the ones who work very hard to help the turtles. First you must work hard in school and learn all you can. Then you can become a marine zoologist (zoo ALL o JIST) or a veterinarian (VET rin ary an) and try to find a cure for the disease.

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Sea turtles are splendid, beautiful creatures.

Sea turtles are splendid, beautiful creatures. They deserve their place on this planet just like humans do. That means they need people who will speak up for them. Turtles cannot speak for themselves so people have to do that for them. Turtles need all the help and all the friends they can get.

We hope that after reading this story, you will become a friend of turtles too.

The story you just read was written in 1995. As we expected, the news about Howzit in 1996 was not good. We did not see him at all. We think Howzit is gone forever, so we have written our last aloha to Howzit.

Kidz Korner
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Last modified 08/02/16
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