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Sea Turtles Dying in Ecuador

September 4, 1999

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) - Hundreds of dead sea turtles have been washing up on Ecuador’s central coast in past weeks, and scientists on Friday blamed the deaths on colder-than-usual waters in the Pacific Ocean.

About 355 of the marine reptiles, mostly olive ridley sea turtles, have been found dead or dying on Ecuador’s beaches since late July.

Ocean temperatures that should be around 72 degrees Fahrenheit have dipped 6 to 8 degrees lower than normal, said Franklin Ormaza, director of Ecuador’s National Institute of Fisheries.

``There’s a direct relation between the water temperature and the death toll,″ he said. ``It weakens the turtles’ immune systems, making them vulnerable to viruses.″

Scientists said they do not know if diseases carried by the turtles could be passed to humans, and have urged coastal residents not to eat the creatures.

Olive ridley turtles, considered a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are among the smallest of sea turtles, weighing as much as 99 pounds with olive-shaped shells 24 to 30 inches long.

An abnormal cooling of the eastern Pacific sea surface, known as La Nina, is currently taking place.

Ecuador’s coast was devastated last year by shifting weather patterns caused by El Nino, a periodic warming of the Pacific waters.

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