Sea turtles have been proposed as health indicators of marine habitats and carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, for their longevity and migratory lifestyle. Up to now, a few studies evaluated the antibacterial resistant flora of Mediterranean loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and most of them were carried out on stranded or recovered animals. In this study, the isolation and the antibiotic resistance profile of 90 Gram negative bacteria from cloacal swabs of 33 Mediterranean wild captured loggerhead sea turtles are described. Among sea turtles found in their foraging sites, 23 were in good health and 10 needed recovery for different health problems (hereafter named weak). Isolated cloacal bacteria belonged mainly to Enterobacteriaceae (59%), Shewanellaceae (31%) and Vibrionaceae families (5%). Although slight differences in the bacterial composition, healthy and weak sea turtles shared antibiotic-resistant strains. In total, 74 strains were endowed with one or multi resistance (up to five different drugs) phenotypes, mainly towards ampicillin (~70%) or sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (more than 30%). Hence, our results confirmed the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains also in healthy marine animals and the role of the loggerhead sea turtles in spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Keywords: Caretta caretta; Mediterranean Sea; antibiotic resistance; bacterial ecology; feeding; marine bacteria; marine habitats; marine microbial ecology.