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Turtle's Death Highlights Threat of Plastic to Wildlife

July 25, 2008 — A green turtle died last week after eating a plastic bag, monofilament and other plastics, a situation that scientists rail about when they discuss the perils of plastic in the sea.
"The plastic bags look like jelly fish or soft-bodied marine organisms," said Rafe Boulon, chief of resource management at V.I. National Park.
Turtles can't tell the difference between the two.
The turtle essentially starved to death because its intestines were filled with plastic materials it couldn't pass.
"It was stuffed with detritus from human carelessness," said Trudie Prior, manager of Coral World Marine Park.
The turtle died at Coral World after being discovered June 14 floating in Coral Bay with a piece of plastic trailing from its rectum. The person who discovered the turtle pulled the plastic out. However well-intentioned, that is not the best way to handle such a situation, experts say.
"The plastic can act like a scissors and slice the intestinal tract right in half," said Dr. Jan Perkins, a St. John veterinarian. If a turtle, or any other creature, is found trailing a foreign object, don't pull it out, she said.
Perkins got involved in the sad saga of this turtle early on.
After the turtle was discovered, residents searched for someone to care for it. The turtle was found on a weekend, which meant no one was available at the federal and local agencies in the Virgin Islands.
"This underscores the fact that trying to get help on the weekend is difficult," said Coral Bay resident Phyllis Benton.
The turtle ended up at Benton's house because no other help was available. Benton usually cares for ailing birds, so the turtle was a bit of a stretch. However, she and Perkins got advice from the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., in caring for sick turtles.
Perkins treated the turtle with antibiotics and mineral oil in an attempt to ease the passage of the rest of the plastic. Additionally, Benton's husband, Doug, made numerous trips to the shoreline to get fresh sea water to fill the plastic swimming pool where they kept the turtle.
"The turtle did improve significantly," Benton said.
While the turtle did get better while still on St. John, Prior said it had eaten too much plastic to continue its recovery.
Eventually, the turtle was moved to Coral World on St. Thomas, which is set up to care for sick turtles. The plastic didn't show up on an x-ray, a situation that Prior said made its actual condition difficult to diagnose.
Coral World is keeping all the plastic removed from the turtle's stomach to show people just how much the turtle can consume, Prior said.
Prior said this turtle, named Charlie, wasn't the first one to die at Coral World after it ingested plastic, but that Coral World has a good success rate in treating sick turtles.
In other wildlife news, Benton said she recently rehabilitated a parrot that will be released back into the wild on Friday.
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