Distressing footage has emerged online showing members of a research expedition off the coast of Costa Rica struggling to extract a plastic drinking straw lodged in the nostril of a male Olive Ridley sea turtle, an endangered species of green sea turtles.
The disturbing eight-minute operation was filmed by Christine Figgener, a marine biologist and conservationist with the expedition on a trip in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
Some may find the content of the video distressing. Viewer discretion is thus strongly advised.
The video was uploaded to YouTube to educate the public on the dangers of dumping rubbish such as plastic bags, bottles, and other objects into the sea. Most people who dump such objects into the sea probably do not imagine that a plastic drinking straw could cause so much agony for a sea animal.
When the researchers first saw the foreign object stuck in the turtle’s nostril, they thought it was a tube worm, a type of parasitic worm that sometimes infests sea animals.
When they began trying to pull out the foreign object, they were shocked to see that it was not a parasitic worm but a 10-centimeter plastic drinking straw that had penetrated very deeply into the turtle’s airway.
The marine biologists had clearly not anticipated that they would have to carry out such a delicate operation as they did not have the right equipment. After debating their options, they were forced to carry out the extraction using a pair of pliers.
One of the researchers, identified on YouTube as Nathan Robinson, attempts to get a grip with the pair of pliers on the end of the object sticking out of the turtle’s nostril while his colleagues hold the turtle to keep it still.
The poor turtle winces in pain, writhes in agony as the researchers struggle to pull the straw from his nostril.
A member of the team then addresses the camera, saying, “This is the reason we do not need plastic straws.”
As the straw is being pulled free from the animal’s nostril, it bleeds, and it is clear that the animal is in a lot of pain. When the straw is eventually pulled out, blood gushes from the nostrils.
But the bleeding stopped soon after the crude operation, and the researchers disinfected the nostril with iodine. They kept the animal for observation before releasing it back into the ocean.
Figgener commented on YouTube, “He [the turtle] obviously did not enjoy the procedure very much, but we hope that he is now able to breathe more freely.”
“He did very obviously not enjoy the procedure very much, but we hope that he is now able to breathe more freely. We disinfected the air passageway with iodine and kept the turtle for observation before releasing him back into the wild. The bleeding stopped pretty much immediately after the removal of the straw.”
Some YouTube users criticized the marine biologists for using such a cruel method to extract the straw from the turtle’s nostril, but Figgener explains in her description of the YouTube video why they had to adopt the painful procedure.
“After a short debate about what we should do we removed it with the pliers of a swiss army knife which was the only tool available, since we were on the ocean a few hours away from the coast and several hours away from any vet and x-ray machines. Plus, we would have incurred a penalty on ourselves by removing the turtle since that is beyond our research permits.”
It is clear that the ocean researchers had to make do with the resources available to them at the time to save the turtle’s life.
It is estimated that humans dump about eight million tons of plastic bottles, bags, and other plastic waste into the oceans every year. Some sea animals mistake such rubbish for food, but the material blocks their digestive system and often causes death.
[Images: YouTube/COASTS; via the Telegraph]