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The best way to fix a broken turtle shell may be to -- brace yourself -- call in an orthodontist. That's what the folks at Loggerhead Marinelife Center -- a nonprofit organization in Juno Beach, Fla., that rescues and rehabilitates the area's sea turtles -- did recently to help a green sea turtle named "Andre."
Last June, Andre suffered two massive injuries from boats that left the inside of his body exposed to the elements. In fact, center veterinarian Dr. Nancy Mettee said the staff had to remove three pounds of sand from inside his body.
At least 25 percent of stranded turtles are hit by boats," she said. "That's not just the propeller. The boat hull can cause just as much damage. "Usually when a turtle gets stranded, that means it is dying. About 25 to 40 percent of the turtles we're treating at the center have been hit by boats. We usually treat about 50 to 75 a year, but during the last two years, we've gone up to about 100 a year."
We needed something to create tension in some areas of the carapace [the upper shell] and movement in other areas," Mettee said. "Orthodontics has this effect within human skulls, so I thought application to a sea turtle's shell may have similar results."
"Basically, we use a glue-like substance that goes on like a paste and becomes rock-hard after it's cured under an ultraviolet light," Mettee said. Attaching the expanders took four hours, but the real work is in the day-to-day adjustments. "We tighten the expanders a quarter of a millimeter each day," she said. "Sometimes it's a whole millimeter. We'll never get complete closure, but the goal is to get the wound down to less than 5 centimeters by May."