MARATHON, Fla. – A dentist used denture repair adhesive to help mend an endangered green sea turtle's fractured shell in the Florida Keys.
On Thursday, Fred Troxel examined Elena, a 40-pound adolescent reptile he had treated the day before at the Turtle Hospital by using the acrylic resin to bond two metal orthopedic plates across a 10-inch split on the turtle's shell.
The hospital has been caring for Elena for a month, since the creature was recovered from a Key West beach. Officials believe the turtle washed up after it was hit by a boat.
For most of that time, Elena's condition was listed as critical. Hospital officials have been administering a broad-spectrum antibiotic and vitamins as well as tube-feeding Elena on a daily basis.
Earlier this week the turtle began eating on its own and hospital officials began to focus on repairing the shell.
Troxel said the hospital staff "had problems with getting things to adhere to the shell, so as a dentist they were asking me to help them figure out what might be the materials that can do it. Maybe I had something in my toolbox."
He came up with the denture repair adhesive, which thus far is holding.
"Modern dentistry is about bonding restorative materials to teeth, which are organic substances," he said. "In this case we are bonding something that's a mechanical device to an organic substance, which is the turtle shell."
Troxel said he has been practicing dentistry in the Keys for more than 35 years, and although he has helped a number of Keys animals, it's the first time he has treated a sea turtle.
Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach said Thursday she is optimistic Elena can one day be released into the wild. But the reptile faces a lengthy road to a full recovery, including the surgical removal of several fibropapilloma tumors caused by a herpes-like virus that affects sea turtles around the world.
Online: Turtle Hospital, www. turtlehospital.org