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Tuk the turtle swallowed more than 300 pieces of trash, and its rescue highlights Thailand’s marine waste problem

BANGKOK: Marine veterinarians in Phuket say a young green turtle found to have ingested hundreds of pieces of marine trash is expected to be able to return to the wild after its treatment.

It was rescued last month after being found stranded on a local beach and has been receiving care at the Phuket Marine Biological Center.

The turtle, named Tuk by veterinarians, was weak, could not eat by itself and had trouble swimming. Subsequent examinations and X-rays revealed that it had ingested a shocking amount of plastic bags, hard plastic, cloth and other trash, which were obstructing the turtle’s gastrointestinal tract but were later defecated.

“We were surprised. This is the first sea turtle that had ingested more than 300 pieces. Normally we have sea turtles that have ingested 10 or 20 pieces. This one is like, wow,” said Araya Boonkasemsanti, the marine veterinarian caring for Tuk at PMBC.

“It’s quite a serious matter for the turtle’s health.

“Right now she’s still weak but she can swim and eat by herself. She needs more nutrition and we need to check on her external wouɴᴅs,” she added.

“If the X-rays show no impaction, then she can go back into the wild,” she said, referring to the possibility of a mass of stool that can’t be pushed out by the turtle.

This is just one example of a much wider problem affecting sea turtles, as well as other marine life in Thailand.

Far from being an isolated case, prominent Thai marine scientist Thon Thamrongnawasat said he receives reports of turtles being stranded every day. Many of them are suffering similar issues after eating debris.

“There are normally 500 to 600 turtles per year. Every day we have almost two turtles stranded and 50 per cent of them, we find some plastic inside,” said the researcher from Kasetsart University.

“If they’re stranded, they could be ᴅᴇᴀᴅ within a few days or weeks or cannot go back to the sea anymore. Life can adapt to some things, but not that much.”

Despite the grim statistics, Thailand has had great success in building up local networks to identify and rescue vulnerable marine creatures and then return them to the wild. Thon said their target of 80 per cent returns is currently being met successfully and the country has good facilities and trained staff to treat such cases.

But, he admitted that the problem of marine plastic is getting worse, leaving more animals in distress.

“We are doing this very well. We are trying to work very hard to save their lives. We are moving forward but sometimes the problem is moving faster than us,” he said.