Sea turtles are considered the ambassadors of marine conservation. They are fascinating Marine reptiles that migrate huge distances and have complex social bonds with each other. It is also safe to say that they are one of the most adored marine species in the world and are yet threatened by extinction, more everyday.
Along with widely discussed issues related to sea turtles like plastic pollution, the problem with clear straws (which according to Greensteel, presents major breathing complications to sea turtles), plastic covers and nets all posing great dangers to this magnificent creature, specifically.
Another devastating man-made disaster that affects marine life is oil spills offshore. Giant oil rigs or oil-carrying ships, when met by turbulent waters, sometimes capsize, causing massive oil leaks into the water. Because of the intrinsic property of the two substances to repel each other – the oil tends to rise to the surface and coat all surface dwelling marine mammals, birds and reptiles. But none more than the sea turtle, which can often be seen caked in oil after a spill. This viscous substance is hard to get off and can cause serious damage to life if ingested.
What is Happening in The Mediterranean?
A devastating oil spill occurred back in February when in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel. According to The Times of Israel, this led to a number of sea turtles washing ashore either dead or on the verge of death, slathered in oil, unable to breathe.
This unfortunate circumstance occurred about 50 km off the coast of Israel and according to this report, when a suspected oil smuggle tanker started leaking several tons of oil into the ocean.
The report states that the oil washed onto 121 miles (195 kilometers) of Israel’s shoreline. Since oil isn’t soluble and stays on the surface of water, this leakage of an estimated thousand tonnes of oil poses a serious threat to sea turtles as they feed and breathe on the sea surface.
The Mayonnaise Solution
While some turtles washed up dead, the turtles that managed to survive were rushed to Israel’s National Sea Turtle Rescue Center. There, the turtles were found to be covered in black tar inside and out. The trachea and the face was completely covered, blocking airways. While the airways were cleaned out, the digestive system was still a concern.
It was at this time that they came up with a plan of feeding Mayonnaise, a condiment, that was able to save the lives of this endangered species. The report also stated that the mayonnaise helped break down tar in the digestive system and that the turtles would be released back into the wild after a 2 week recovery period.
While looking for an alternate way to flush out the viscous and sticky oil, the team found that feeding mayonnaise to the affected turtles helped a lot! In fact, the team was astonished to find that mayo could break down the oil and as the mixture of oil and mayo passed through the digestive tract, it was promptly flushed out.
This discovery has already helped several dozen young turtles affected by the spill and scientists see potential in using mayonnaise as a means to help other animals and birds affected by oil spills.
Why Do We Fight To Save Turtles?
Sea Turtles are incredibly robust and ancient creatures that are important parts of the marine and coral reef ecosystems. There are seven different species of sea turtles come under the order of Testudines and they are the – green sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, olive ridley sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, flatback sea turtle, and leatherback sea turtle.
Unlike their freshwater or terrestrial counterparts who can retract their head into their shells for protection, sea turtles do not have that ability. They have what’s called a fusiform body. The spine is fused with the shell and the neck extends out but cannot be retracted back into the shell. This fusiform structure gives their body a spindle-like shape, which enables them to swim faster by reducing drag and friction.
Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles with lungs, so they regularly surface to breathe. The dive time (the period in which a sea turtle can spend time underwater) varies depending on the activity that they’re involved in. A turtle on the prowl for food can spend around 5 to 40 minutes underwater whereas a sleeping turtle can stay underwater for 4 – 7 hours (their metabolism and need for oxygen reduces when they sleep!)
Some of these turtles are entirely herbivorous, but for species like green sea turtles, their diet changes with their age. When they are young, they are omnivorous as they feed on zooplankton and other smaller plankton. But as they get older they become exclusively herbivores and only feed on seaweed or seagrass.
In terms of their life cycle, it takes Sea turtles decades to reach sexual maturity and even then they have to migrate thousands of miles to find a proper breeding site. An adult sea turtle mates in the ocean and then they travel back into the land where she lays her eggs by finding the right sand nest.
After laying all her eggs, she camouflages the nesting spot with sand vegetation until it is undetectable. She might even dig decoy nests and the entire process takes around 30 to 60 minutes. Then the female turtle returns to the ocean leaving the eggs unattended.
Even though they are classified as an extremely endangered species and it is illegal to hunt them, people in the past have considered them to be delicacies and many species of tortoise and turtles have almost hunted them down to the brink of extinction.
Israel’s National Sea Turtles Rescue Center was able to act fast in preventing the death of many green sea turtles. Even though the government is doing it’s best to control this oil spill,, disasters like this take a long time before things get back to normal.
But for now, Mayonnaise with its unique property to stick with and repel water(hydrophilic and hydrophobic), can help in removing all the tar that’s stuck inside the digestive system and clear them. This could prove to be a crucial discovery that could go a long way in wildlife crisis management from manmade disasters in the future.