Fourth Industrial Revolution

How one injured turtle can swim freely again thanks to a unique prosthetic limb

A giant green turtle swims underwater at a diving site near the island of Sipadan on Celebes Sea east of Borneo November 8, 2005.REUTERS/Peter Andrews - RP2DSFHCYTAB

A least 1,000 turtles a year get caught in fishing nets, for 9/10, it's fatal. Image: REUTERS/Peter Andrews

Douglas Broom
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Fourth Industrial Revolution

  • Researchers in Bangkok have helped an injured sea turtle swim again with an innovative artificial flipper.
  • It was built considering the animal’s injury, weight and swimming style.
  • The prosthesis offers hope to other turtles trapped and maimed by fishing nets.

Goody is swimming contentedly across a pool in Bangkok under the watchful eye of a team of vets. She looks much like any other sea turtle, but with one big difference – a unique artificial flipper.

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Just months earlier, Goody was stressed and finding it hard to move after she was entangled in fishing gear and lost one of her flippers. She is one of the lucky survivors of a fate that traps at least 1,000 turtles every year.

Goody the turtle and her artificial flipper
Goody, an olive ridley sea turtle, shows off her bespoke artificial flipper. Image: Reuters

Nine out of 10 turtles trapped in nets die, research shows. But olive ridley sea turtle Goody was rescued and taken to Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, where a team of scientists set about developing a prosthetic limb to get her swimming again.

"She's swimming much better and learning to use the two flippers to turn,” says Nantarika Chansue, one of the vets on the development team. “You can see the difference. We are trying to develop one of the best turtle prosthetic flippers ever created.”

While Goody is unlikely to be fit enough to return to the sea, Chansue and her team say the artificial limb will make a massive difference to her quality of life in captivity.

"It's just like when we have our babies,” adds Chansue. “You're like a proud parent."

Around 1,000 turtles die each year from being tangled in plastic waste
Confusing plastic with food can cause internal bleeding and blockages in the turtles intestines Image: WWF

Raising hopes

There are 10 other turtles like Goody in the programme and each will need a prosthesis designed specifically to match the nature of their injury, swimming habits and weight. But the success of the scheme so far means there is new hope that the other injured turtles will swim again soon.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

Sea turtles are commonly trapped in nets or plastic waste, according to WWF. It’s estimated that more than half have ingested some form of ocean plastic. And researchers have found that eating just once piece of plastic can be lethal.

According to the UN, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year, posing a threat to all marine life. From cutting out plastic straws to using our own coffee cups and beyond, we all need to do more to help tackle the problem.

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Fourth Industrial RevolutionOceanFuture of the Environment
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