ENVIRONMENT

This Heartbreaking (And Graphic) Video Will Make You Rethink That Plastic Straw

Researchers in Costa Rica pulled a 4-inch plastic straw from a sea turtle's nostril.

The next time you reach for a straw to pop into your iced coffee, think of the turtle in the video below.

A team of researchers was looking for turtles in Costa Rican waters last week when they came across an Olive Ridley sea turtle that appeared to be having trouble breathing.

When they took a closer look, they saw a crusted, cylindrical object lodged in one of his nostrils. Using a set of pliers, one of the researchers tried to pull the object out, but it was much longer than they had expected.

"In the beginning, we thought we were looking at some kind of parasite or epibiont," Christine Figgener, a marine biology Ph.D. candidate, told The Huffington Post, referring to living organisms such as suckerfish or barnacles that live on the surface of other marine animals.

When they were sure the object was not a parasite that could be attached to the turtle's brain, they clipped off a part of the object and examined it closely.

WARNING: Graphic images below.

"I already had the inkling that it might be a straw," Figgener, who posted the video to her YouTube account, explained. One of the field hands bit into the mystery object, confirming that it was indeed a plastic straw.

"That moment was the turning point and we didn't have to talk much about it," Figgener told HuffPost. They immediately decided to pull it out.

With pliers and persistence, the researchers pulled for eight bloody minutes until the straw -- all 4 inches of it -- was dislodged. 

"It is very common to find turtles with fishing hooks or lines attached to them," Figgener told HuffPost, "but we have never seen a straw stuck in a sea turtle's nostril before."

Once the entire straw was removed, the bleeding stopped almost immediately and the turtle began to act normal.

The research team kept him for another hour for observation, and then released the turtle back into the sea where he "happily swam away," according to Figgener.

"From my experience, sea turtles are very resilient animals," she said. "I have seen females with severe propeller injuries or shark bites returning to our beaches in following years and years after."

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic trash end up in our oceans every year, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Science.

Figgener thinks the turtle might have accidentally eaten the plastic straw, choked on it, then tried to throw it back up.

The nasal cavity on a sea turtle, she explained, is connected to his oral (also known as buccal) cavity. The arch in the recovered straw, she said, matched the sea turtle's anatomical structure perfectly.

"It's a bit like when we cough up spaghetti and it goes out our nose," Figgener said. "In this case, it would have been a thick and hard piece of spaghetti."

Figgener's current research work has to do with sea turtle genetics, but she sees the consequences of plastic pollution all the time.

"We are the ones that spend so much time in the ocean encountering hundreds of individual turtles for our studies," she explained. "The video is just one example of what we come across in our daily work."

Since there are limited veterinary services in Costa Rica, Figgener says she and other researchers often have to help critically injured sea turtles themselves.

"It is a quite common practice to remove foreign objects from sea turtles if the alternative means death," Figgener said.

Her latest rescue inspired Figgener to develop a first-aid kit for sea turtles that researchers can bring with them in the field. She launched a GoFundMe campaign this week to raise money for the kit and to help pay for her research efforts.

Watch the full, graphic video of the sea turtle's rescue below and make a personal promise to think twice before using a plastic, disposable straw.

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