Turtles at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge could teach us about toxic algae

Turtles at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge could teach us about toxic algae

OAK HARBOR (WTOL) - Could turtles help keep your drinking water safe? That's what some people are hoping as the Lake Erie algae bloom season gets closer.

In a part of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge that is always closed to the public, University of Toledo researchers invited WTOL to see the important work they're doing to protect Lake Erie.

A stunning painted turtle held by a student lives in a wetland connected to Lake Erie at the Refuge in Oak Harbor. He has been away from home for a few days.

UT students and their ecology professor, Dr. Jeanine Refsnider, caught him in a trap to do blood work and test his immune system. Tuesday morning, the turtle was returned to where he was found.

The team has humanely trapped 35 turtles so far this season and has more to bring in for testing. After taking a break, they will return later this summer if there's an algae bloom to see if there's a difference.

They expect the toxic algae, if there is a bloom this summer, to hurt the turtles' ability to fight off leeches and parasites.

"It's a liver toxin and it's a toxin if you ingest it, so turtles living in water that has microcystin, they'd be likely to ingest it and it can also be inhaled. And so turtles are probably right at the front line of being affected," said Dr. Refsnider.

They are also trapping Map turtles to study the effects.

"We're obviously the next generation that's going to be in charge of trying to fix it, so we have to take interest in order to find a solution," said UT grad student Jessica Garcia.

The turtles could help us in fight off similar toxins some day.

"We have relatively similar immune systems to turtles," Refsnider said.

The researchers and students will release their findings at a public lecture series at the Lake Erie Center next year. They also intend to publish it so other scientists can see it.

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