There’s a famous Pete Seeger 1955 song titled “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” that was covered by many folk groups in the 60’s. Today a re-write of that song might be “Where Does All the Plastic Go?” At our hospital we see first-hand where some of it ends up.
Right before Thanksgiving we got a call that a turtle had stranded in North Topsail Beach. This little green was admitted with a body temperature of 63 degrees, so we suspected cold-stunning was the most likely the reason she ended up on the beach. She wasn’t loaded with barnacles or algae like most of the cold-stuns but she looked like she was wearing a necklace. It’s not the kind of accessory we like to see on any turtle because it usually means there was some interaction with fishing line or a net. We named this little cutie “Fuzzy Wuzzy” and she was given the standard course of meds, including treatment for anemia, and settled into a tank.
Since she was in relatively good condition upon admittance we thought she might be a short timer. But she seemed to be having a buoyancy issue, especially in deeper water. Very often this is a temporary condition and will resolve as we keep the turtle in lower water levels so they remain horizontal, not listing or head or butt up. But Fuzzy Wuzzy had a surprise in store for us. Along with her normal digestive waste we were netting numerous pieces of plastic – for weeks!
These were probably what most of us would consider “micro plastics” but if they were moving thorough your gut they probably wouldn’t feel so micro. All kinds of colors, sizes and shapes, and all with sharp edges. In the end this little six pound critter managed to pass a total of 14.5 grams of plastic, the equivalent of three typical credit cards. Ouch. The good news is that on January 3rd she caught a boat ride with a bunch of her friends to warmer waters, with a stern reminder from us to look for a different restaurant.
Patients that have eaten plastic (and all kinds of trash) is not a one-off occurrence for us. It’s out there everywhere, and if the ocean is your home and that’s the only place you can get your food you’re in trouble. Years ago, comedian George Carlin, noting that plastic is not fully degradable, said that the planet would eventually shake us off like fleas and create a new paradigm “Earth Plus Plastic.” He was not trying to be funny.
We’re hoping that the cold weather is coming to an end and we’ll probably be seeing fewer cold-stuns. We continue to rely on our locals and visitors to keep any eye out for victims of cold snaps. If you see a turtle that has washed up on the beach or in our marshy areas or is in the water floating motionlessly don’t assume it is dead. They literally can’t move, maybe not even blink. Whether the turtle is big or small immediately call our Director of Beach Operations, Terry Meyer at: 910-470-2880. If she is not available, call the hospital during operating hours: 910-329-0222. If the turtle is below the high tide line and in danger of washing out move it above the high tide line if you can do so safely. Ideally you should remain with the turtle until our trained volunteers arrive to retrieve it. If that is not possible find a way to indicate the location of the turtle on the beach by drawing large arrows in the sand or placing beach debris nearby. The State of NC hotline for stranded, sick and injured turtles is 252-241-7367. The state number picks up 24/7. All conservation work for endangered sea turtles at KBSTRRC and on Topsail Island is authorized by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, ES Permit 23ST05.
We’re getting ready to open on a limited tour schedule beginning in March. Tours will be on Friday and Saturday from 11AM – 2 PM. You will still need to purchase tickets in advance through our website www.seaturtlehospital.org. Our gift shop is loaded with tons of new turtle merchandise and you’ll be able to adopt one of our patients for those hard to buy for relatives and friends. Fan favorites Snooki and Lennie are looking forward to having visitors again after months seeing only our faces so be sure to check us out before the seasonal crowds.