Plastic pollution in Australia’s marine environment has become so prevalent that even a tiny 3 week old Green Turtle hatchling attempting its first journey south from Queensland had already eaten it, mistaking the plastic as jellyfish.
Weighing only 56 grams, ‘Andrew’ the turtle was found on a Central Coast beach covered in sand, lying on his back and immobile.
Fitting easily into the palm of a hand, he was brought to Taronga Zoo’s Wildlife Hospital and treated for various conditions including plastic ingestion and bite injuries to his rear flippers.
Zoo veterinarian Kimberly Vinette Herrin said, “Andrew was just a tiny hatchling turtle when he was brought in, and we were genuinely surprised that at only 3 weeks of age, he had already eaten plastic from within his marine environment. Unfortunately, we’reseeing more and more cases of animals impacted by marine debris”.
Australians use 10 million plastic bags every day. Even without these setbacks, less than one in 1,000 marine turtle hatchlings are believed to survive to adolescence.
Andrew spent 16 months in care at the Zoo, eventually growing to over 9 kgs and graduating to a deep water tank in preparation for being released off Sydney Heads.
Taronga’s Wildlife Hospital Manager Libby Hall said, “Australians have a love affair with plastic bags and so many bags end up getting into our waterways and into the oceans. Andrew was one of the lucky ones, but a great many marine creatures die when the bags impact in their gut. We urgently need people to use reusable shopping bags and making a real commitment to removing plastic bags from our marine environment”.
Prior to being released, Andrew was fitted with a small satellite tracker so that his carers can follow his journey, and learn more about the migratory patterns for his species, which is endangered in the wild.