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A baby green sea turtle rescued from a Sydney beach had consumed so many plastic fragments that it took six days for the hatchling to excrete it all out, according to a wildlife hospital.
The 127-gram male hatchling was found in a rock pool, lying on its back, Taronga Zoo said. Washed onto the beach by a swell, the turtle was brought into the sanctuary with a few injuries, including a missing back right flipper, another flipper had been chipped, and there was a hole in his shell.
The sanctuary cares for up to 80 turtles per year and veterinary nurse Sarah Male said the “majority” of injuries stemmed from ingesting plastics, and fishing lines.
This tiny turtle arrived at Taronga Wildlife Hospital recently with a stomach full of plastic. We hope the NSW Plastic Action Plan will reduce the number of turtles admitted to us in the future. To support the vital work of our hospitals, please visit https://t.co/QCMerPsjYb pic.twitter.com/lJ92Ceu2jr
— Taronga Zoo (@tarongazoo) July 28, 2022
When the baby turtle arrived at the wildlife hospital, he was in “fairly good physical condition, but when he started to defecate, he defecated six days of plastic. No faeces came out, just pure plastic”, Male said in a video posted to the soo’s Twitter account.
Seeking to uncover the extent of the problem, the hospital collected vials of the turtle’s poo each day. “We came up with six tiny vials full of all different sizes of plastics. Some of the plastic that did come out was really hard, which could have caused an obstruction. But this little guy – luck was on his side, and he excreted it all out”.
The turtle is now an inpatient at the hospital and is growing stronger by the day. “He’s now eating and defecating really well – no more plastics,” Male said. Eventually, the sanctuary plans to release him back into the waters surrounding Sydney, but preparing the tiny turtle could take up to two years. “We want to give him the best chance, so when he’s released he’s more than just… fish food”.
Plastic pollution in the ocean – including microplastics – is one of the biggest environmental threats, according to World Animal Protection. As well as fragments, like those the turtle had ingested, invisible microplastics seep into the water as bags and bottles break down. Once it enters an animal’s system, the toxic chemicals can increase the chances of disease and affect reproduction.
New rules in New South Wales, known as the Plastics Action Plan, aim to target the issue. From 1 June, all lightweight single-use plastic bags were banned, and from November, other single-use plastics, such as plastic straws, cutlery, and cotton buds will be outlawed.
“We hope these actions will reduce the number of turtles admitted to Taronga Wildlife Hospital in future”, wrote the sanctuary in a Facebook post.