Turtle Straw Nose

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle with straw up its nostrilSource: TKK

The above meme was obviously created to promote the banning of plastic straws. But what of the story behind the photo?[1]

Texas A&M University’s Christine Figgener and her research team were doing an in-water genetic study research trip in Costa Rica when they came across a male Olive Ridley sea turtle with something protruding from its left nostril. Their initial thinking was that they were looking at a parasitic worm.

After a short debate about what they should do they decided it needed to be removed. The only tool available on their small boat was a small pair of pliers on a Swiss army knife. The decision to remove it was based on:

  1. They were on the ocean
  2. They were in in a developing country a few hours away from the coast
  3. On reaching the coast they would still be several hours away from any vet (probably days from any vet specialised in reptiles, not to mention sea turtles) and an x-ray machine.
  4. They would have incurred a penalty (up to time in gaol) by removing the turtle from its area since it was beyond their research permits.

While trying to remove it they cut a small piece off to investigate it further and discovered that what they were really looking at was a plastic straw!

Below is the video of the removal of the offending plastic straw.

*********** WARNING: An expletive or two may be heard! *********

As it shows in the video the plastic straw ended up being about 10cm long and he obviously did not enjoy the procedure. There was quite a bit of blood flowing from his nostril but hopefully he can breath more freely now.

Most likely the turtle ate the straw and then regurgitated it where it ended up in the nasopharyngeal duct and poking out the nasal cavity. In sea turtles the nasopharyngeal duct connects the palate (roof of the mouth) to the nasal cavity.

This video is a great example as to why plastic trash is detrimental to marine life and why plastic straws, specifically, are one of the most superfluous items made out of plastic. Especially if they end up in our oceans.


The Plastic Pollution Coalition

The Plastic Pollution Coalition[2] (PPC) was founded in 2009 and its mission is to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals and the environment as well as to amplify a common message through strategic planning and communication.

With over 500 member organisations and a growing coalition of individuals the PPC seek to increase understanding of the plastic pollution problem and to find sustainable solutions. They aim to empower more people and organisations to take action to stop plastic pollution and to live plastic-free.

The PPC in collaboration with the Texas A&M University’s Christine Figgener and her research team have launched a no straw campaign called “The Last Plastic Straw”.

The Last Plastic Straw

According to The Last Plastic Straw Campaign;[3] "Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States alone. In only the past twenty years, people have come to expect plastic straws in every drink, in an example of extreme waste being generated for minimal convenience. These short-lived tools are usually dropped into a garbage can with no further thought, instantly becoming a source of plastic pollution."

"The Last Plastic Straw strives to educate the public about the absurdity of single use plastic, its effects on our health, our environment, and our oceans."

They are also promoting a grassroots campaign to encourage all individuals to push for change in bars, restaurants and take-away stores protocol and practices in their local communities around the world.

In Australia there is a similar campaign called “The Last Straw[4] which was founded by Eva Mckinley. Eva’s idea was conceived while she was working in a busy cafe in Hobart, Tasmania where she estimated that 20,000 plastic straws are used each year in that cafe alone. The Last Straw won an award at the Tasmanian Young Achievers Awards[5] in its first year.

The popular tourist town of Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, became the world’s first town where all the shopfront businesses agreed to phase out plastic straws. With the town using 40,000 straws per month the 30 local businesses, including cafe owners, the servo, grocers, pubs, takeaway shop and deli, decided it was the most environmentally responsible solution to the problem.

This needs to be more than a trend. This must become an intentional and permanent move for everyone around the world to say “No” to plastic straws. Every time you order a drink politely request “No straw, thanks.” and also encourage your friends and family to do the same.

[1] The “photo is actually a screen grab from the video of the removal of the offending plastic straw.
[2] The Plastic Pollution Coalition – https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/
[3] The Last Plastic Straw – https://thelastplasticstraw.org/
[4] The Last Straw – https://last straw.com.au/
[5] Tasmanian Young Achievers Awards – https://www.awardsaustralia.com/young-achiever-awards/tas/previous-winners/