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Conservationists Race To Solve Mystery Of Long Island Turtle Die-Off

JAMESPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Turtles are washing up on Long Island beaches, and the die off could signal trouble for fish, shellfish, and the health of local bays.

Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons and its many volunteers in Jamesport are trying to save as many Diamondback Terrapins as humanly possible.

"It is just heartbreaking. To see them washing up is just sad. Nothing we can do, our hands are tied," Karen Testa, Founder, Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons told CBS2's Jennifer McLogan.

In a rare die-off, some 100 diamondbacks have washed ashore from Peconic Bay to Flanders with no signs of trauma.

Beachcomber sightings were first documented by SoutholdLOCAL.

Scientists from Stony Brook and Cornell said water samples from the bays showed concentrations of Saxitoxin producing algae that was ten times above normal. They blame it on too much nitrogen.

Pesticides from golf courses, lawns, farms, and septic systems may be too close to sensitive harbors and bays.

Shellfish consume the algae and following winter hibernation diamondbacks began dining on shellfish. The toxins may have literally paralyzed their muscles.

Necropsies are underway at the Riverhead Foundation and Department of Environmental Conservation with hopes of solving the mystery.

"What we are going to do today is basically do a forensic examination, open up the animal, try to collect samples, try to get some more data," Kim Durham, Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research said.

Diamondbacks are considered the puppy dogs of the turtle world. They posses personality and it's believed are able to recognize people.

Scientists say it will take a long time to recover from the turtle die off, and decades for egg producing females to return to stable populations.

The DEC has temporarily banned harvesting of shellfish in water around Riverhead, Southold, and Southampton.

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