Sea turtle ingests balloon, signaling concern over marine debris

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A group of fishermen are being hailed as heroes after rescuing a sea turtle tangled in fishing line off the coast of Clearwater Beach.

The sea turtle - nicknamed Donkey Kong - is now recovering at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Video captured the 2-pound sea turtle in major distress. Its flipper was tangled in fishing line and, as a result, it was forced to lug around more than twice it's body weight.

Two weeks into treatment, Donkey Kong also passed a plastic balloon they believe he ingested sometime around when he got tangled in this buoy and fishing line.

"That's something that our x-ray machines and our CT scans can't even detect," sea turtle biologist Lauren Bell said. "Through those kinds of diagnostics so hopefully if they do ingest trash, that's something they can pass on their own."

The fisherman who spotted the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle called rescuers who were able to quickly get him to safety. Donkey Kong was taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and treated by Bell.

"You could tell that that was going to definitely wear him out," Bell said. "So luckily they found him in the nick of time."

Donkey Kong's rescue comes as more restaurants eliminate plastic straws. Prior to Starbuck's announcement this month it would stop using plastic straws by 2020, Pinellas County eateries and coffee shops were already ditching plastic straws.

Bell says her group is already taking notice of the impact.

"We're seeing a lot of decreased straws on our beaches our conservation team is out there every morning," Bell said. "Because it is nesting season and they are also noticing a decrease in those straws and that plastic ware."

Along with trash, boats can also put marine life at risk. If you going to be boating, biologists ask you have a spotter to look for animals.

If you would like to help keep marine life safe, a beach clean-up is set for this Saturday in Clearwater.

The aquarium launched a fundraiser asking for donations to help future sea turtles that become victims of marine debris or human interactions, such as boating accidents. So far, the aquarium has rescued 181 sea turtles in 2018. Nearly 30 percent have shown signs of human interaction at some point. 

The fund will also benefit beach clean-ups, conservation efforts, research, and raising awareness of the impact of ocean pollution on marine life. Donations can be made here.

Donkey Kong is a young Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. The species has been considered critically endangered since 2010. It is the rarest species of the sea turtle and the smallest marine turtle in the world, according to NOAA. They are typically found in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The public can monitor Donkey Kong's progress through his own web cam on the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's website.