Health condition of Chelonia mydas from a foraging area affected by the tailings of a collapsed dam in southeast Brazil
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In 2015, the failure of the Fundão dam caused the release of 43 million m3 of tailings into the Doce River Basin, in southeast Brazil. It was considered the largest environmental disaster of the world mining industry. The tailings, composed mostly of heavy metals, caused massive destruction of the Doce River ecosystem endangering the organisms that live in the coastal zone where the mud reached the ocean. Among the exposed species are the sea turtles that use the region for food. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of contaminants on the health status of juvenile green sea turtles that feed in a coastal area exposed to ore mud (Santa Cruz) and to compare them with animals from an area not directly affected (Coroa Vermelha). A physical examination was performed to determine the health status. Blood samples were analyzed for hematological and biochemical parameters, and metal concentrations (As, Cd, Cr, Cu, Fe, Hg, Mn, Pb, and Zn). Santa Cruz sea turtles had more ectoparasites and a higher incidence of fibropapillomatosis. Statistically significant differences between sites were found for levels of calcium, phosphorus, glucose, protein, albumin, globulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, urea, CPK, ALT, and AST. The count of leukocytes, thrombocytes, and heterophils, as well as the concentrations of As and Cu were higher in Santa Cruz turtles. Together the results show a worse nutritional status and a greater degree of liver and kidney damage in animals affected by the tailings. The health status may indicate a physiological deficit that can affect their immune system and behavior, which is supported by the higher fibropapillomatosis tumor score and ectoparasite load in these animals. These results support the need for long-term monitoring of the exposed area to quantify the direct and indirect influence of the heavy metals levels on sea turtles and how this reflects the environmental health.
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