061815 News for Pawleys Island, Litchfield and Murrells Inlet
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Environment: Hospital finds plastic inside injured sea turtle

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Pieces of plastic bag and a red rubber balloon were in the system of a loggerhead sea turtle that washed ashore in Midway Inlet last week, according to the Sea Turtle Hospital at the S.C. Aquarium in Charleston.

It was one of two immature loggerheads that were found on Pawleys Island last week. The other was at the island’s south end and was named Pawley. The turtle on the north end was named Midway.

“Midway has passed an impressively large amount of plastic,” Christi Hughes, the senior sea turtle biologist, said in an e-mail. “But we are grateful that it doesn’t appear to be a complete GI obstruction at this point.”

Midway is missing a portion of its right front flipper. Pawley has a scar on its shell where it was hit by a boat. Both were suffering from “debilitative turtle syndrome,” which includes a range of problems. At under 50 pounds, Pawley is the second smallest patient ever admitted to the Sea Turtle Hospital, Hughes said. The loggerhead was “very malnourished.”

“Both are eating and prognosis is fair at this point,” Hughes said.

That was good news for Mark Young, a local fishing guide who discovered Midway last Monday morning. He was fishing from his kayak on his day off when he spotted something in the water at low tide. “It looked like a rock,” he said. He waded over and found the barnacle-encrusted shell of the turtle.

“I didn’t immediately see his flipper was gone,” Young said. “He moved his head a little.”

Young scooped away some sand to improve the water flow around the turtle. He called 911, which put him in touch with SCUTE, the volunteer group that monitors sea turtle nesting. Jeff McClary, the group’s co-founder, and Mary Schneider, who organizes the volunteers on the island, were walking to the turtle on the south end when they got the call.

Schneider headed north, arriving from the Litchfield side of the inlet. She talked with the state Department of Natural Resources about getting an all-terrain vehicle to move the turtle. Then she saw it. “We need a boat,” she said.

Young and a fishing buddy, Rob Birchmeier, kept the turtle wet. Young called Kevin “Stump” Grant, a charter fisherman at Pawleys Island Outdoors. Grant already had a jonboat ready for a charter and he brought it to the island.

“Mary gave us all gloves and we first lifted the turtle onto the wet-down tarp, and then onto the boat,” Young said.

Rescuers were distressed, but not surprised about the plastic trash in Midway’s system.

“We should be very mindful of our impact on the oceans,” said Kate Dittloff, spokeswoman for the S.C. Aquarium. “People can help by picking up trash they see on the beach, recycling, eliminating single-use plastic bags from their lives and by sharing this education with their family/friends.”

Schneider said the lesson will be shared with the public when SCUTE conducts inventories later this summer of nests that have hatched. “That’s very important to us,” she said. “It’s something to remind people of the importance of not dropping plastic.”

The loggerheads will be at the hospital at least four months and possibly as long as a year or two, Dittloff said. They will get pages on the aquarium website, online, where people can follow their progress.

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