Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is a beacon for environmental education, research, and conservation in Southern Florida. Each year they monitor over 800 turtle nests within a five mile span of beaches. They rescue, rehabilitate, and release sick and injured sea turtles and most impressively they release more than 9,000 stranded sea turtle hatchlings each nesting season.
It's washback season at Gumbo Limbo and that means volunteers are on the lookout for sea turtles among accumulations of seaweed along their favorite sections of beach. There are weak, tiny turtles washing up along the coastline who are in need of help.
Gumbo Limbo shared this picture on social media along with the caption:
"Unfortunately, not every washback survives. 100% of our washbacks that didn't make it had plastic in their intestinal tracts. This turtle, which would fit in the palm of your hand, had eaten 104 pieces of plastic. This is a sad reminder that we all need to do our part to keep our oceans plastic free."
Whitney Crowder, the sea turtle rehabilitation coordinator for Gumbo Limbo told TODAY:
"When they're this size, they're omnivores, all of them. They're not as specialized as when they're older. They eat little crustaceans that live in the floating seaweed, and they also eat algae in plant life, and these little pieces of plastic are just kind of floating, mixed in the seaweed, and by default, they're eating the plastic. I think they’re just trying to eat to survive and not realizing that they’re eating something harmful."
The team at Gumbo Limbo work tirelessly to save as many turtles as possibly but it's a tough job. Crowder said they've seen 121 washbacks this season, and dozens have died.
An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year. Crowder hopes media coverage of the viral photo, which was posted Oct. 1, will help raise awareness.