Energy/Environment First Look

Why surgeons removed nearly 1,000 coins from an endangered turtle

Veterinarians in Thailand operated Monday on a female green sea turtle to remove nearly 1,000 coins from the endangered animal. She had fed for many years on the coins tossed by tourists into her pool in the eastern town of Sri Racha.

The female green green turtle nicknamed 'Bank' swims in a pool at Sea Turtle Conservation Center n Chonburi Province, Thailand, on Friday.
Sakchai Lalit/AP | Caption

In many cultures, tossing coins into a fountain is thought to invite good luck. But for one sea turtle, the tradition has brought nothing but misfortune. 

A 25-year-old female green sea turtle underwent surgery in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday, after veterinarians discovered nearly one thousand coins in her stomach. The turtle, nicknamed "Omsin," or "Bank," hailed from a pool in the eastern town of Sri Racha, a popular destination for tourists seeking good luck. Throwing coins onto turtles, according to Thai superstition, brings longevity to the thrower. 

Years of coin tossing resulted in a heavy ball in Bank's stomach, veterinarians said, weighing a total of 5 kilograms (11 lbs). The weight of the indigestible ball had cracked her ventral shell, which apparently led to a life-threatening infection. 

A team of surgeons from Chulalongkorn University's veterinary faculty carefully removed the 915 coins, many of which had corroded or partially dissolved. 

The veterinarians first discovered Bank's ailment after the navy found her and brought her in. A detailed 3-D scan revealed the source of the problem, as well as two fish hooks, which were also removed on Monday. 

"I felt angry that humans, whether or not they meant to do it or if they did it without thinking, had caused harm to this turtle," Nantarika Chansue, head of Chulalongkorn University's veterinary medical aquatic animal research center, told the Associated Press.

A campaign by Thai media last month to publicize Bank's story resulted in roughly 15,000 baht ($428) in donations from the public to pay for the turtle's surgery. 

Now, the veterinarians say, it will likely take about a month to make sure that Bank will fully recover and it is expected that she will also need months of physical therapy, Dr. Chansue told Reuters. 

"The result is satisfactory. Now it's up to Bank how much she can recover," said Pasakorn Briksawan, a member of the surgical team, to the Associated Press. 

Green sea turtles typically live around 80 years, according to Roongroje Thanawongnuwech, dean of Chulalongkorn University's veterinary facility. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists green sea turtles as an endangered species

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.