It was last year that Scuba Junkie opened it's Turtle Rehabilitation Centre - the first of it's kind in East Sabah. For months the tank went unused - not a bad thing. We would not wish sickness on our reptilian friends. Then last month a sick turtle was brought to us by another dive centre and we have been able to put our rehabilitation centre to good use.
The affectionally named 'Myrtle' the turtle was brought to us as she was unable to dive down from the surface. Consequently she was unable to rest on the reef or - most importantly - feed. At this point we must just note that the sex of the turtle is currently undetermined. It is near impossible to tell the sex of a turtle until it reaches sexual maturity, which this young one has not. However, we have come to love her too much to refer to it as, well, 'it'. So Myrtle is a 'she' until we find out more. Our rehabilitation centre is comprised of a pool with a pump that brings in filtered sea water. The fact that she was unable to duck dive dive was causing her a lot of distress so the water has been filled just a few inches.
The reason poor Myrtle has been unable to submerge herself in the water is due to a build up of gas. The cause of this is difficult to determine. A vet from the Sabah Wildlife department came to visit and said it was one of two potential issues. It could be an intestinal infection or it could be a blockage from consuming plastic. Once the vet has fully trained our staff in administering the antibiotics in case it was an infection, she left us with enough to treat her for ten days. And so we began our emotional journey of care. The injections had to be given every day, and twice a day we were trying to feed her.
As the days went on she began to refuse food. Small squid is the best thing to feed turtles in her situation. The less than glamorous job of feeding involved cutting up squid, removing the parts that the turtle is unable to eat and trying to feed her - a smelly and messy job! Sadly she grew lethargic, she seemed depressed and was refusing food. Our concerns grew as the days went on and she barely ate. We were regularly weighing her and her weight was declining.
Suddenly, everything changed. Her course of antibiotics came to an end and the decision was made to stop weighing her as it was causing a lot of stress. It is unsure which change of events caused the dramatic change in behaviour, but suddenly she was eating. Her appetite had returned with a vengeance. From barely looking at slithers of squid placed in front of her, she was chasing down parts that were dropped in any part of the pool. We have now also gradually added sargassum weed to her meal, which is a bigger part of her natural diet than squid. Our concern then became that the food was not passing through - that the blockage remained. Fortunately she has now been passing large amounts - who knew we could get so excited about turtle poo!
Our staff have been trained in turtle care, but of course through out this experience we have had the constant guidance of people who have dealt with this situation before. Paul Barnes and Scott Maybank have been invaluable in their help. Paul Barnes came to visit just the other day and upgraded our the centre. His contribution to this project has been truly amazing. We are also hugely grateful to the Sabah Wildlife Department for all their help and advice.
As Myrtle continues to improved we hope that soon the gas will pass through and she will be able to dive down again. It seems that whatever caused the build up of gas has been eliminated, however the gas remains. Paul Barnes
informed us that the gas has escaped into the body cavity and we must wait for it to dissolve. This process could take months. Even when she does recover it is recommended to keep her in care for a few months in case the problem returns. She is fast becoming a beloved part of our Scuba Junkie family!
There is no doubt that this has been a emotional roller coaster filled with fear, sadness, excitement and joy. We will keep you updated on her progress and we hope to releasing back into the ocean in a few months time.
There is one key issue that has been highlighted by Myrtles arrival. Although we are currently not 100% sure what has caused the blockage and build up of gas - there is always the chance that it was plastic. Too many lives are being lost across the ocean due to the devastating increase of marine debris. By reducing the amount of plastic you use you can help save creatures across the world.