Why did hundreds of sea turtles perish near El Salvador? The country’s ministry of environment and natural resources found 300-400 dead turtles in Jiquilisco Bay, so they took samples to try and determine why the animals died. National Geographic floated fishing and algal blooms as two reasons for the sea turtle die-offs.

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Around 300 to 400 sea turtles died near El Salvador, according to MARN. Locals began seeing the turtles the end of October; MARN announced the die-off on Twitter in early November. Several turtle species reside in the area, but so far it looks like ridleys have been the species most hit. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies ridleys as vulnerable.

Related: Unusually high number of humpback whale deaths prompts NOAA inquiry

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A red tide, or harmful algal bloom, led to turtle deaths in El Salvador in 2006 and 2013. Turtles can die after ingesting the blooms. But it’s not yet clear if a red tide caused these deaths. On November 3, MARN said they collected samples from seawater and the turtles’ tissues, and also took blood samples from a living turtle.

The fishing industry has been to blame for turtle deaths in the past during shrimp trawling, as turtles can get caught in the nets. But a month-long moratorium began October 17, so the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative‘s Mike Liles said fishing probably didn’t cause the 300 to 400 turtles to perish. Liles did say the practice is still dangerous for the creatures.

This recent event is one of the biggest turtle die-offs El Salvador has experienced. Liles said large-scale die-offs could just get more common as industrial agriculture runoff worsens red tides. Conservation Ecology Lab ecologist Alexander Gaos agreed and said more conservation programs are needed.

Via National Geographic

Images via MARN El Salvador on Twitter (1,2)