An injured sea turtle handed to the Two Oceans Aquarium’s turtle rehabilitation centre did not wake up from anesthesia after an operation.
The turtle, named Marcel, also had a belly filled with 67 pieces of plastic – bits of hard microplastic, pieces of rope, clothing fibres and plastic shopping bag fragments.
The turtle’s death came in Plastic Free July, an annual campaign by the Two Oceans Aquarium, which calls on consumers to become more aware of the choices they make when it comes to plastic.
Marcel was handed over to the centre by a Grotto Bay resident last month. She spotted what she thought to be a dead sea turtle tangled in a discarded fishing net.
CEO of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation, Maryke Musson, said when the woman approached the turtle, she saw it was in fact alive and moving weakly. She immediately contacted the turtle rescue network, which arranged transport to the sea turtle rehabilitation centre at the aquarium.
She said Marcel was an approximately 5kg green sea turtle with an estimated age of 3 years. “Green sea turtles are endangered, and ghost fishing nets, like the one that entangled Marcel, are by far one of the main dangers that face these animals once they have outgrown their hatchling phase.”
Upon arrival at the rehabilitation centre, Marcel was given basic stabilising care and his wounds were inspected. His back flipper, where the net had wrapped around him, had had its blood flow completely cut off and was entirely gangrenous.
Two Oceans Aquarium veterinarian Brandon Spolander, together with the conservation team of the foundation, set about to amputate the necrotic flipper – something that was necessary if Marcel was going to survive.
Ms Musson said sea turtles can still be highly mobile and have a good quality of life in the wild with only three flippers, particularly if the removed flipper is a back one, as was the case for Marcel.
“Although the surgery went according to plan, and we were initially optimistic about Marcel’s prospects for successful recovery and release, this little turtle did not wake up from anaesthesia, despite seven hours of ventilator and post-operative care.
“As is the case with any life-saving surgery, there is always the risk that the patient does not recover, and this risk applies to animals too. It’s always sad to lose a patient, but we know the veterinary team made the right call to amputate the flipper to control infection.”
A post-mortem examination was conducted on Marcel to determine the cause of death, and it was found that his gut was already necrotic – the infection had already spread from his flipper and the damage was too extensive for this turtle to ever recover.
This autopsy also revealed the plastic in Marcel’s stomach.
“Although ingested plastic was not the cause of death in the case of Marcel, the sheer quantity of plastic we found was alarming. These must have been fragments of plastic that he had consumed along the South African coastline before becoming entangled in the ghost fishing net,” she said.
Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation conservation coordinator, Talitha Noble, said: “Marcel’s story makes me super sad, because despite him being an incredibly strong turtle and despite us doing our best to try and help him, we as humans gave him too many battles to face. Turtles just can’t do it, they are strong but they can’t win against the burdens we put on them by polluting the ocean.
“Little Marcel suffered from both of the greatest risks that sea turtles face in our oceans: ghost fishing nets and plastic pollution. His death was completely unnecessary, and preventable.”