A rescued green sea turtle brought to our rehabilitation centre was found to have a large sheet of plastic stuck in its throat - this is how we helped it.   

Recovery update (7 December 2018): The green sea turtle which had a plastic bag removed from its throat is making a remarkable recovery since undergoing the procedure last week!

Since named “Alvi”, this turtle quickly bounced back to high energy levels within days of having the bag removed from its digestive system. The plastic was removed on Thursday 29 November, and by the weekend we were already seeing Alvi’s appetite return, and signs that normal digestion is taking place.

Alvi is still under observation in our rehabilitation centre, currently living in a small enclosure so that it is easy for our veterinary team to observe and, if necessary, intervene. Alvi has become a highly active, curious and affectionate patient, and we are looking forward to moving the turtle to progressively larger enclosures until its health and ocean conditions around the Cape are ideal for release.

The original story:

On Sunday 18 November, while enjoying a weekend away at Struisbaai, the McQillan family found a sea turtle washed up on the beach.

Found on the shore at Struisbaai, the turtle was brought to the Two Oceans Aquarium on 18 November. Credit: Elizianne McQuillan

With the help of members of the local NSRI base the turtle was rescued from the beach. The NSRI are a member of our Turtle Rescue Network, so immediately contacted the Two Oceans Aquarium.

With the help of the local NSRI, they were able to rescue this turtle and transport it to the Two Oceans Aquarium. Credit: Elizianne McQuillan

The family then drove for 3 hours to bring the turtle to the Aquarium where, we immediately started treatment according to our rehabilitation protocol. The green sea turtle, weighing 23kg, was very weak, but stable upon arrival, and didn’t have too many external growths and only minor visible injuries.  We proceeded with treatment, but very quickly realised that the turtle was showing signs of laboured breathing.

"A little bit of movement showed us that he was still with us." Credit: Elizianne McQuillan

Suspecting a possible lung infection or pneumonia, we started with antibiotics and supportive medication. Over the next couple of days, we noticed that the turtle was becoming weaker. Five days after its arrival, a barium study was done to investigate if the turtle possibly had a blockage. A Barium study takes place over a couple of days, and when X-rayed four days later, we found that the Barium had not moved as one would expect. We were able to confirm that the turtle indeed had some kind of obstruction in its oesophagus.

The Barium study clearly showed an obstruction Photo: Talitha Noble

We realised that we needed specialised equipment to help this turtle. The Aquarium’s endoscope was too short, has no gripping ability and one can also not blow air through it, which is necessary to move the Barium. Over the next couple of days, we contacted a number of vets to see if we were able to track down the right equipment. We established that Dr Malan van Zyl at the Cape Animal Medical Centre has the only endoscope in Cape Town which fits the criteria of being thin enough, long enough, can blow air and has gripping abilities. He kindly offered to help and fitted us into his very busy schedule.

Watch as Dr van Zyl removes the plastic from the turtle's body below.

In 10 days, this turtle has gone from being found on a beach, admitted to our rehabilitation facility, has had X-rays and treatment and yesterday, had a piece of a plastic bag removed from its throat.

The turtle is currently being cared for by our turtle rehabilitation staff.

The turtle is still in critical condition. We are monitoring it as part of our Turtle Rehabilitation and Release Programme and will continue to administer medication and treatment as needed.

The plastic removed from the turtle's oesophagus. Photo: Talitha Noble

You can help

You can help. By changing your behaviour and switching to reusable shopping bags and joining the Rethink the Bag movement, you can prevent this from happening to other turtles.

On the left is sea lettuce, on the right is the plastic removed from the turtle. The plastic looks a lot like the turtle's natural food - plants! Photo: Kevin Spiby

You can also donate to our Turtle Rehabilitation and Release Programme.

Thank you to the McQillan family for rescuing the turtle as well as a big thanks to Struisbaai NSRI for alerting us.

"Alvi is part of our family memories now." Credit: Elizianne McQuillan

The Two Oceans Aquarium would like to thank VetPoint for their assistance. We would especially like to thank Dr van Zyl and the Cape Animal Medical Centre for opening up their facilities to us, offering us their expertise and specialist equipment and assisting this turtle at very short notice. We really do appreciate it!

Rest well little one.
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