Riddle of the Deep

Something ugly is gorwing in the sea and it’s beaffling the best brains in biology. An epidemic of tumors is ravaging reptiles from the Caribbean to the South Pacific. Fibropapilloma, biologists call the disease, but they admit they know far too little about why it is attacking the already-endangered green sea turtle.

One of seven species of sea turtles, the green sea turtles has long had a perilous existence. It has been slaughtered for food, leather and for its shell, which when varnished, makes an elegant object d’art. But once the green was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1978, killing one became a federal crime. The salughter slowed, and green populations began inching up. Then fibropapilloma came along.