By Josh Saunders
Two turtles have been released back into the wild after one contracted a near-deadly infection caused by consuming plastic.
The pair were rescued by The Mundo Marino Foundation after becoming trapped in a fishing net nearly three months ago in January in the waters surrounding San Clemente del Tuyú, Argentina.
After one of the turtles started to defecate plastic, further analyses revealed an abscess blocking its nostrils, which if left untreated could have been fatal.
It’s believed the reptile confused natural food sources including jellyfish or gelatinous fauna, with either a plastic bag or another plastic item.
The infection, which was caused by consuming the non-degradable waste, required antibiotics and for veterinary surgeons to manually unclog the animal’s airways.
Without the treatment and still living in the wild, the animal would have died due to the severity of the infection and being easier prey for other sea creatures due to not being able to dive.
After the animal recovered and was released back into the wild last week [Mar 21], the organisation is warning about how plastic consumption and disposal is destroying the sea’s ecosystem.
Hiram Toro, 37, operational coordinator of the veterinary team of Mundo Marino Educational Park, said: “At the time of admission, one of the turtles defecated nylon, a type of plastic that usually appears in supermarket bags.
“In addition, the turtle that defecated nylon presented an infection in its nostrils.
“We were able, through radiographs, to determine that the infection was exclusively in that area, since our main concern was that the infection had spread to their lungs.
“Once determined where the focus of the infection was, we gave him an intramuscular antibiotic and we were manually extracting the abscess that blocked his nasal passages.
“The turtle would not have survived for several reasons.
“Because the airways were obstructed by infection, that turtle had a lower capacity for breathing and diving.
“This would make it less competitive in the search for food in relation to other reptiles of their species.
“Another sign of the consumption of plastic was that the turtle entered without an appetite.
“This can be caused by the false sensation of satiety generated by the intake of non-nutritive elements – in this case, plastic – that occupies space in the digestive tract.”
As well as providing intramuscular antibiotics, the team performed six sub-ten-minute sessions to clean and remove gunk and pressure from the nostrils.
Fortunately, the second turtle who was also rescued at the same time was declared healthy after undergoing clinical observation, blood samples and having its faecal material studied.
While the team were glad to see the turtles released this week, they expressed concern about the growing amount of plastic pollution in the ocean.
They believe 97 per cent of turtles helped by the foundation have consumed plastic, and so far this year 10 out of 16 rescued were found to have non-natural items in their digestive system.
Hiram said: “Our role is to conserve these vulnerable species in a context where the human being has made their habitat seriously threatened.
“97 per cent of the turtles that enter the Mundo Marino Foundation have plastic in their digestive system.”
Karina Álvarez, biologist and head of Conservation of the Mundo Marino Foundation, said: “The plastic in the turtles triggers a series of negative physiological consequences that can lead to death.”
For more information visit: www.mundomarino.com.ar