Plastic pollution in the oceans is a real problem that is often easily set aside because we do not see its effects in our daily lives. Occasionally, however, we are reminded of the dramatic consequences that plastic pollution has on life in the oceans.
A group of marine biologists led by Christine Figgener working in Costa Rica came across a male olive ridley with what appeared to be a parasitic worm inside its nostril. After careful inspection, it turned out that the foreign object was in fact a plastic drinking straw. The researchers, who were a few hours from the nearest vet and x-ray machines, were able to successfully remove the straw with a pair of pliers on the boat.
I communicated about the event with herpetologist and sea turtle expert Prof. Jeanette Wyneken from Florida Atlantic University. She tells me that “anatomically, cheloniid (or hard-shelled) sea turtles have a partial secondary palate between the nostrils and the mouth. […] The straw looks like it was in that space, possibly extending along the lateral part of the nasal sac but it could have gone through the choana into the mouth.” Furthermore Prof. Wyneken explains that “turtles, like many reptiles, wall-off foreign bodies with caseous material and fibrin (sort of a scaffolding of protein). That is likely why the straw was so hard to remove. The bleeding nose was likely due to those fibrin components being torn away from the normal lining.”
Thankfully the turtle is reported to have been in good health and was promptly released. “The bleeding stopped pretty much immediately after the removal of the straw,” reported Ms Figgener. “We disinfected the air passageway with iodine and kept the turtle for observation before releasing him back into the wild.[…] He did very obviously not enjoy the procedure very much, but we hope that he is now able to breathe more freely.”
Let’s hope that this video serves as a reminder to be responsible with the disposal of our waste, especially plastic waste. You just never know where your garbage might end up.
Video courtesy of The Leatherback Trust