In the midst of a big cocaine bust deep in eastern Pacific waters, a US Coast Guard drug-enforcement team became unlikely wildlife heroes.
Crew members found a female loggerhead turtle trapped in the middle of 26 floating rectangular bales of cocaine, the US Coast Guard announced on Sunday. The string tying the bales together had become tangled around the turtle, leaving her with severe sores around her neck and flippers.
After cutting the lines with a knife, they took the turtle aboard for a quick check-up. Then they had to deal with the other problem at hand: a shedload of cocaine floating around the sea.
The bales contained around 800 kilograms (1760 pounds) of cocaine, with a street value of around $53 million. It’s believed they were attached to a high-speed boat traveling down drug-trafficking routes along the Central American coast but were ditched by the smugglers. The crew found the unlucky loggerhead during a 68-day Eastern Pacific counter-drug patrol as part of Operation Martillo.
Some people have suggested that this turtle might be complicit in this multi-million-dollar crime. On the US Coast Guard's Facebook page, one user joked: “Righhhhht. The turtle was 'caught' in the line and surrounded by 53 million dollars [of] coke. It’s obvious the cartels have trained turtles to traffic cocaine for them. It guarantees the turtle, if caught, will always be let go. Well played cartels, well played.”
The turtle did not deny any of these allegations.
Loggerheads are circumglobal, meaning you can find them in a whole host of temperate and tropical regions in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The two populations that live in the Pacific Ocean are both listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act, meaning they are at risk of extinction within the foreseeable future.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) claims that accidentally getting caught in fishermen’s nets and lines is one of the main causes of death for these turtles. Before the introduction of specialized Turtle Excluder Devices, it’s estimated 50,000 loggerheads were killed in nets in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean alone. They are also faced with the threats of pollution, habitat destruction, poaching of their eggs and meat, and rising sea temperatures.