How did this noble sea turtle get a plastic straw stuck in its nose?

As of this post, more than thirty million people have watched, commented on, and shared the graphic 8 minute viral video of a noble sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nasal cavity.

Scroll down for the video, or read on for more info.

How did that plastic straw get in there?

You know when you’re having lunch, and you take a sip of milk or juice? Then someone reaches the climax of a hilarious story, and suddenly you’ve got a waterfall of liquid gushing from your nose. A bit painful right? Well at least you got in a good laugh.

But in this case it’s no laughing matter. For the sea turtle, as with many other animals across the planet, the nasal cavity and throat are also connected. Having foreign matter up there messes with the turtle’s most important sense organ, its sense of smell. Without that smell, it can’t find yummy turtle food in its natural habitat, and it would definitely affect its ability to navigate its environment.

Christine Figgener, a PhD student at Texas A&M University and a sea turtle expert, was part of a team that came across this 77 pound (35 kilogram) male sea turtle. They were researching mating practices, when they realized there was something coming out of its nostril.

At first they thought it might be some kind of organic matter, “it looked like a worm,” Figgener said, but when they realized it wasn’t a parasite or other dangerous substance tucked into the brain, they carefully began extracting it. Once they realized that it was a plastic straw, the team knew they had to take immediate action. Even if they had a permit to transport the sea turtle over land, the nearest veterinarian was hours away. And even if they managed to reach a vet in time they might not know what to do with a sea turtle.

“We have been talking about the detrimental effects of straws for years, but seeing that video, as horrible as it was, is what we needed to wake people up,” Figgener said in an interview with Plastic Free Times, a couple months after the video was first posted on YouTube.

The turtle was a sexually mature Olive Ridley male, a member of an endangered species, typically found off the Pacific shore of Costa Rica. They’re known to live up to fifty years, but have many natural predators, including sharks, killer whales and certain types of large fish.

How did this happen? The most likely scenario is that our sea turtle friend was grazing for crustaceans along the sea bed, and according to Figgenar, he may have “gagged on it, regurgitated it and it ended up in the wrong passageway. The mouth cavity in turtles is connected to the nose; the arch of the removed straw matches this anatomical characteristic perfectly.”

Please be advised that the video below is a bit graphic, so be mindful for sensitive viewers. You can click on the image below to read up on National Geographic and watch the amazing rescue effort.

From the rescuer:

[plastic straws] contribute to the 5.25 trillion pieces of marine trash that have ended up in the ocean.


So how did the Olive Ridley sea turtle become a poster child for sustainability?

...and more importantly, how can I be more environmentally friendly?

Luckily, that turtle was at the right place at the right time. After the marine rescue, Figgener and the team spent the two-hour boat ride back to harbor in silence. “We had no words. We just knew we had to get the video out to the public.”

It took eight hours of spotty restaurant wifi to get the smartphone footage up on YouTube. Then it went viral. But this isn’t the first time this has happened of course. with over 5.25 trillion pieces of marine trash there’s bound to be more casualties in the ocean. According to Ocean Crusaders[] plastic entanglement causes over 100,000 deaths to marine creatures. And those are just the ones that find themselves on boats or washed on shore.

Figgener adds, “I had a turtle that had a piece of plastic sticking out when she was dropping her eggs. She’d ingested a plastic bag, and it was tangled in her intestines. When we find dead turtles, we dissect them, and almost every single turtle has some kind of plastic.” 

You’re probably thinking, I’m so overwhelmed, I’m going to make like a turtle and just retreat into my shell!

Don’t worry, some days we feel overwhelmed too. So here are some immediate steps you can take:

  • Just say no!
Preempt the kind waiter’s service at your favorite restaurant by asking for your drink with “no straw”. Maybe you’re getting a to-go iced coffee at Starbucks or Caribou or your local coffeeshop. Remember to say “no straw” as soon as you order. The best scenario would be to bring your own tumbler or cup with a reusable straw. But sometimes we’re forgetful.
  • Shopping Green
Not all of us can afford to shop organic for everything in our pantry, so try to find one thing you can replace in your home by shopping at a green store. Maybe you can’t do all of your shopping at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but there’s probably a local and more sustainable outlet in your community
  • It's okay to make it up as you go along
It can be overwhelming to think about changing your whole lifestyle to be more eco conscious. But there are cost effective ways to take advantage of a more green lifestyle, and lower your plastic footprint.
Many products we get in big box stores can be made at home with natural, environmentally friendly, and often organic recipes. We’ll be sharing our thoughts and strategies on making yours a green home, sustainable green energy, in upcoming blog posts.
  • When in doubt, choose a product with the least amount of plastic packaging, or replace it with a natural alternative.

Let’s get real. Most people don’t need straws to drink. There definitely people with special needs (whom we will feature in future blog posts) who absolutely need the assistance. But the rest of us can either say no the plastic straw, or find an alternative.

And that’s where The Lucky Straw comes in.

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