Sea turtles injured from fishing gear and plastic in rehab in Ecuador

A turtle with fake green and white legs
A turtle with a pair of prosthetics, Ecuador, photo: Reuters/Santiago Arcos

Most sea turtles rescued by a rehabilitation center in Ecuador have trash or fish hooks in their intestines. The animals often confuse plastic with jellyfish and eat it. 

And many of them have fractures from being hit by fishermen or tangled in nets, said veterinarian Ruben Aleman, who founded the Marine Rehabilitation Center in Machalilla National Park in 2012.

After researching sea turtles on different beaches, he found that “98% of the causes of sea turtle’s stranding and mortality was human.”

“That’s why we created the center,” Aleman told news agency Reuters. “All the stranded turtles that we don’t rescue die. They die within three, four hours. It depends on the sun. If they don’t receive first aid, they die,” he added.

Injured turtles undergo rehab at the animal hospital in southern Ecuador. When they’ve recovered, they’re returned to the wild. 

An olive ridley sea turtle has spent a year at the center recovering from severe shell damage and surgery to remove plastic from his swallowing tube. 

Another turtle, who lost his front flippers during surgery to remove fish hooks, nets and plastic, has gotten a pair of prosthetics. Aleman said that the turtle can swim again but will never be able to return to the wild.

Rehabilitation for turtles can last years, as they slowly transition to swimming pools and then to the sea, initially accompanied by volunteers.

“The idea is to take them out on the sea so they are inspired to swim and move their fins and swim, so they can move even if it’s only for those 10 or 15 minutes where we take them out,” said biologist and center volunteer May Platt.

Since 2021, the center has rehabilitated nearly 300 adult turtles, dozens of birds and some sea lions. The center uses medical equipment suitable for humans, like an oxygenation machine, X-rays and blood sample tests.

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