When Nathan J. Robinson first discovered what was causing an Olive Ridley sea turtle to have problems breathing he said he felt “exasperated.”
“It took me a while to take in that it was a straw,” Robinson, a post-doctoral fellow who specializes in turtles at Indiana-Purdue University said during a phone interview.
Robinson and Marine Biology PhD candidate Christine Figgener came across the male sea turtle with a plastic straw lodged in its nostril while conducting research about an hour off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Figgener filmed the encounter and uploaded to YouTube a week ago, where it has since accumulated over 2-million views.
For eight long and traumatic minutes, the video first shows the researchers figuring what’s lodged in the turtles nasal passage and then with a Swiss army knife in hand, attempting to remove it.
“We really had no idea if it was going into her mouth or if it was deeper than it looked,” he said. The researcher explained that they felt that it was in the turtle’s best interest to remove the straw on the boat and that their research permits didn’t allow them bring the turtle back to the mainland.
Unfortunately, it’s quite common for turtles ingest plastic but scientists say that it’s happening with unprecedented frequency. According to a study released in February, the world’s 192 coastal countries contribute 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution into the ocean every year.
The tense video shows the turtle sneezing and responding to the researchers and at one point starting to bleed. “Not knowing what’s on the other end of the straw,”Robinson said “So you want to be gentle.”
At the very end of the video with blood coming down the turtles face, the straw was removed. The straw “was a lot longer than we thought it was” Dr. Robinson said.
According to Robinson the camera’s battery died but after it shut off, antiseptic was applied and the turtle was deemed “fit, healthy, and strong,” and released back into the ocean.
Robinson said that afterward he was not able to get it off his mind and was in “an absolute shock at what we’ve seen.”
Since the video’s release, Figgener started a GoFundMe campaign to support her research.