A marine conservation center in Florida has repaired an injured sea turtle's shell with materials used in human orthodontia and released it back into the ocean Wednesday.
Beachgoers in Juno Beach, Florida, discovered a green sea turtle on Father's Day of 2010. "Andre" was floating close to shore with two gaping injuries from boat propellers in his shell. One wound exposed his spinal cord while the other had filled with three pounds of sand and was badly infected, said Melissa Ranly, hospital coordinator at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Ranly said she "got in the turtle ambulance" to bring Andre in to the center.
Despite the severity of his injuries, which also included a collapsed lung, Andre was not acting like an animal that was ready to die, Ranly said.
"Even from the time we got him in the sling and in the ambulance that day, we saw that he had a kind of energy to him that we didn't expect," Ranly said. "We just noted that this turtle was strong. Even though he had these really severe wounds, he just had this life about him and was in it for the long haul."
Andre's unusual tenacity called for some unusual veterinary care, Ranly said. The center borrowed a negative pressure wound vacuum to clean out the newer, sand-filled injury and re-inflate Andre's lung. Once the injuries inside the shell were healed, the veterinary team sought to fix the damage to the shell. They contacted an orthodontist, who used palate expanders to position Andre's shell so that it would heal.
As Andre regained his strength over the past year, he attracted a large following of fans who would monitor his progress in person or via a webcam, Ranly said. Many of Andre's supporters went to see him released into the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday.
"Because he had so many obstacles to overcome, I think people really embraced the story," Ranly said.
Ranly said injuries like Andre's are relatively common in South Florida, where there is heavy boat traffic. The way to avoid them, she said, is to operate boats at a slow enough speed that turtles surfacing for air will have time to dive out of the boat's way.