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Sea turtles wear swimsuits for scientific research

Scientists in Australia have come up with a novel solution to help them collect faeces from sea turtles — a customised swimsuit which acts as a giant nappy.

A PhD student and researcher from the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences is researching the diet of sea turtles with the aim of locating foraging areas to help protect the species. This study relies on being able to collect turtle faeces for analysis.

The scientists conducted the research on six loggerhead sea turtles and kept them in seawater tanks at the university’s Moreton Bay Research Station. It took them several attempts to come up with the idea of using a swimsuit to act as a “giant nappy”.

“It was challenging to collect the entire faecal sample once it dispersed into the water,” said student Owen Coffee said in a statement. “So we developed a flexible funnel anchored to the shell, to fit over the turtle’s tail. But this was not a good answer because the animals are so large, it was difficult to keep the devices in place.”

The idea was eventually suggested by Dr Kathy Townsend who had previously developed a soft, flexible harness for studying the vision of sea turtle hatchlings.

Mr Coffee bought second hand sunshirts and transformed them into costumes, which included a detachable faecal collector.

“After a few modifications, including Velcro-attachments for the ‘nappy’, we hoped we had the perfect solution to our unusual problem,” Dr Townsend said.

“To our great surprise, it worked perfectly. The suits were easy to put on, comfortable for the sea turtles to wear, looked great, and Owen was able to collect the entire faecal sample.”

After donning their swimsuits and having samples collected the turtles were then released back into the sea at Moreton Bay without their customised outfits.

Scientists all over the world are trying to protect endangered sea turtles. One concern is that their habitats are being damaged by plastic waste, which is considered to be one of the biggest threats to world’s oceans.

Some leading brands are now taking a stand against the issue. Luxury store Selfridge’s recently banned plastic bottles and Adidas has created trainers made from recycled ocean rubbish.

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