Home / Funny / Viral / Hawaiian Teen Wins Prize For Breakthrough Research On Mysterious Outbreak Affecting Sea Turtles


While many high school students may not be excited about science projects, one ambitious student decided to dedicate almost three years to one. Meet Maddux Alexander Springer, a teenage Hawaiian who decided to conduct his own research after noticing a dearth of information about a species of sea turtles suffering from an enigmatic illness.

During his pandemic free dives in Kāneʻohe Bay on the eastern side of Oahu, Springer, now eighteen, first noticed the green sea turtles covering the sea floor. Because of fibropapillomatosis, or FP, which affects up to 97% of sea turtles worldwide, they were covered in cauliflower-like tumours. Normally the illness remains latent, but when it does, turtles develop tumors that grow on their outsides and occasionally on their insides. Although the tumours are not harmful in and of themselves, they can have disastrous effects if they obstruct breathing or food.

Springer decided to conduct his own investigation into the disease affecting Hawaii's turtle population since he could not find enough information. His goal was to determine the cause of the FP activation in Hawaii's turtles. He requested permission to biopsy the tumours on the turtles, but his application was turned down. Relentlessly, he deployed an array of submerged motion-sensing cameras to examine the turtle populace. The cameras not only confirmed that FP was widespread, but they also revealed that the turtles were consuming a significant amount of graciliaria salicornia, an invasive species of algae.

Since too much algae will suffocate coral reefs, which are already under stress from rising temperatures, eating algae is typically one of the turtles' most important roles in their ecosystem. However, it turns out that invasive algae and native species are not the same. Eleven times as much sewage is absorbed by Graciliaria salicornia as it was by the turtles in the past.

Hawaii, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on Earth, is basically stewing in its own poop, in case you were unaware. Hawaii has more than 83,000 cesspools. Due in part to their geographic location and in part to a population boom following World War II, many Hawaiians store wastewater in a hole beneath their homes. Hawaii's volcanic soil is extremely porous, so this wastewater seeps into the ground and swiftly flows into the ocean. Hawaii releases fifty-two million gallons of raw sewage into the ground every day.

Beachgoers are becoming more prone to skin and gastrointestinal infections, and wastewater contains a lot of nitrogen. It has been demonstrated that this raises cancer rates in humans, but we are not the only ones who suffer from this. Springer questioned whether nitrogen from waste was being absorbed by the invasive algae and transformed into the amino acid arginine, which has previously been linked to FP. The curious teenager began gathering and preparing samples of algae for analysis using a mass spectrometer in a lab. Springer's suspicions regarding the arginine levels in the turtles' primary food source were validated by the spectrometer.

He took first place in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair's animal sciences division, despite the fact that his study hasn't been peer-reviewed. He also won the Peggy Scripps Award for Science Communication, which will provide him with an additional $10,000 for his studies. In the fall, Springer intends to attend Oregon State University to study marine biology. He hopes that his project will contribute to raising awareness of Hawaii's pressing crisis. "I just really want to raise awareness that this is an issue and that government intervention is the only way to solve it," he says.

By 2050, the state promises to replace every cesspool. However, that won't happen soon enough to spare the turtles and the entire ecosystem—including people—from terrible outcomes. A bill imposing fees on property owners with cesspools was passed by the legislature in May with the goal of raising money for alternatives to cesspools. That won't even come close to covering the costs associated with replacing outdated wastewater treatment systems with contemporary ones. Hopefully, Springer's peers will follow his example and become powerful clean water advocates when they reach voting age. 

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