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In Israel, mayonnaise proves a miracle cure for tar-covered turtles

National Sea Turtle Rescue Center is treating nine endangered green sea turtles affected by devastating oil spill that coated Israel’s coast with thick black tar

A 6-month-old green sea turtle is cleaned from tar after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea; at Israel's Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, Israel, February 23, 2021.(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A 6-month-old green sea turtle is cleaned from tar after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea; at Israel's Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, Israel, February 23, 2021.(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

MICHMORET (AP) — When it comes to saving sea turtles, Israeli rescuers have discovered that mayonnaise is a miracle.

Employees at Israel’s National Sea Turtle Rescue Center are treating endangered green sea turtles affected by the devastating oil spill that has coated Israel’s coast with thick black tar.

The spill, which Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority has called one of the country’s worst ecological disasters on record, has coated most of Israel’s 120 miles (195 kilometers) of Mediterranean coastline with sticky tar. It has caused extensive damage to wildlife, including sea turtles.

Guy Ivgy, a medical assistant at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, north of Tel Aviv, said 11 turtles are being treated there. The center is run by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority.

A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea; in Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel; Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“They came to us full of tar. All their trachea from inside and outside was full of tar,” he said.

Workers have been removing the toxic substance from the reptiles’ airways and found a creative way to flush it out of their digestive tracks.

“We continue to feed them substances like mayonnaise, which practically clean the system and break down the tar,” Ivgy said. The recovery process is expected to take a week or two, after which the turtles are expected to be released back into the wild.

Thousands of volunteers and clean-up crews have mobilized to remove tar from Israel’s beaches, a task that is expected to take months.

People clean tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean sea, in Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Environmental Protection Ministry says it is investigating the cause of the oil spill.

The incident is believed to have taken place in early February, and Israel said it received no prior warning before an estimated 1,000 tons of tar started washing up on shore. The tar has also spread north and reached Lebanon.

On Monday, an Israeli court barred publication of all details of the investigation, including the name of the suspected ship believed to have spilled the oil, its route and ports of call. An Israeli journalists’ association petitioned the court on Tuesday to have the order lifted.

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