Against the odds: turtle hatchling survives floods and plastic pollution

IT is the miraculous survival story we all need to read right now.

Pretzel, a green turtle hatchling, has already survived a flood disaster, and potentially fatal plastic consumption, all of which has just occurred in its first few weeks of life.

The little battler, who fits in the palm of a hand, washed ashore recently at New Brighton Beach on the New South Wales north coast amid floods that inundated homes and caused evacuations in the small coastal town.

Pretzel was taken to the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital where an x-ray machine, funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, detected a blockage in its colon, which turned out to be plastic.

“Here’s this perfect little creature, which hasn’t even seen the world yet, and one of its first meals is plastic,” said treating veterinarian Dr Chantal Whitten, from Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital.

“It’s absolutely shocking.”

“At the moment BBWH is treating wildlife species from flood-impacted areas.

“This includes an increase in displaced animals like this hatchling swept off course and echidnas who would normally be in their burrows this time of year,” Dr Whitten said.

Dr Whitten and her team administered a laxative to help Pretzel expel the plastic.

The hatchling and some adult turtles, which had come into Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital’s care, were then transferred to Sea World on the Gold Coast.

This was because of concerns about the quality of the flood-impacted seawater available to house the turtles in northern NSW.

At Sea World, marine scientist Siobhan Houlihan was cleaning Pretzel’s tank and noticed the hatchling had passed two small pieces of plastic but was struggling to pass a larger piece, which required her to extract it by hand.

She posted the procedure to Instagram.

“This little sea turtle is only between one-to-two weeks old and has already been so heavily impacted by human activity,” she said.

“Sadly, microplastics kill sea turtles and other marine life as they can’t digest them and suffer complications and internal damage when trying to pass the pieces through internal organs.

“We should never get desensitised to this, but are worryingly seeing more cases in the rescued animals which come into our care.

“We are urging people, where possible, to reduce their single-use plastics, avoid buying plastic consumables, and choose alternate options such as glass, tins, cans and reusables instead,” Ms Houlihan said.

Whilst Pretzel has so far survived, another small green turtle, about six months old, also came into the Bryon Bay Wildlife Hospital suffering plastic ingestion during the floods.

It could not be saved.

Kate Noble, No Plastics in Nature Policy Manager, WWF-Australia, said scientists and wildlife carers are concerned by the volume of debris, especially plastic, flushed into the ocean by the flood disaster.

“COVID-turbocharged plastic consumption, and now floods are washing vast amounts of plastic pollution into our waterways.

“That plastic will have horrendous impacts on marine life,” she said.

“Ocean plastic pollution is a disaster for people, animals like Pretzel and the planet, and it’s set to triple by 2040 unless we take serious action.

“It’s time to turn off the plastic tap.

“We all have a role to play, from reducing the plastic we use at home and eating out, through to bans at the state level, and a global treaty on plastic pollution, which more than 170 countries last week agreed to start work on,” Ms Noble said.  

WWF recently revealed that nearly nine in 10 Australians support a global treaty to combat plastic pollution and almost 80 per cent think single-use plastics should be banned as soon as possible, according to a new global survey.

Through Regenerate Australia, WWF provided $250,000 to the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital for operating costs and to purchase cutting edge equipment including x-ray, ultrasound, endoscopy, and anaesthetic machines.

WWF has just launched an emergency flood appeal to help wildlife victims.

WWF will be distributing the first allocation of funding to three partners in the northern rivers, including the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital.

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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