Alarming turtle discovery prompts warning over 'horrifying' trend

Experts warn against painting turtle shells as it can cause serious illness and even death.

Images of brightly coloured turtle shells circulating social media might seem harmless to some, but it's a sign of a deadly trend which can have devastating consequences, experts have warned.

It's not uncommon for the animals' shells to be decorated with paint or nail polish, but the novelty can "cause severe illness" or deformities and in some cases even death.

Shane Davies from Turtle Rescues NSW told Yahoo News Australia "people sometimes paint them to thier favourite football team colours or they just do it to decorate the turtle" for fun — and while mostly seen overseas, it happens locally in Australia too.

Hand holding turtle with deformed shell due to coloured paint.
Painting turtle shells can cause serious illness, including deformities as shown in this image. Source: Facebook

Warning against painting turtle shells

Viral images on social media show a group of small freshwater turtles donning brightly patterned shells in a small tank of water. While another shows what can happen as the turtle, or tortoise, continues to grow.

"If you’re wondering why this turtle ended up like that, it’s because the paint obstructs the absorption of the vitamins needed for these species to develop properly, which they get from sunlight," the caption on the viral post reads.

Davies said while he hasn't come across "anything this bad," referring to the deformed shell, he confirms it to be true. "I would absolutely advise not to do that," he said warning people against painting the animals' shells.

"It’s not good for the turtle for its shell to be painted at all," he told Yahoo. "It is an act of cruelty and can cause illness to the turtle due to toxins in the paint."

Brightly coloured turtles and tortoise with paints shells.
The toxins in the paint are absorbed through the porous shell and can cause serious injury to the animals. Source: Facebook

Thier shells are porous meaning they absorb all liquids and the paint toxins can indeed stunt their growth. Once it penetrates the shell, it can cause serious injuries such as deformities and even respiratory issues.

Shocking images leave people outraged

The confronting images shocked many on social media who were baffled by the apparent trend.

"What type of idiot would paint a turtles shell?" one questioned "This is horrifying," said another.

Others agree it's a form of animal cruelty and condemned those who thought it was harmless and fun to decorate the reptile shell. Some however deemed it "common sense" not to mess with the "poor animals".

Group of turtles lined up along river bank in NSW, Australia.
Turtle shells require UV from the sun to form properly and and protect them. Source: Turtle Rescue NSW

Major threats to Australian turtles

In Australia, ocean enthusiasts continue in their plight to help protect marine life, with turtles particularly under constant threat.

Crab pots on and around Aussie beaches are a major problem, Grahame Lloyd from Sea Shepard previously told Yahoo. He said he is "constantly" finding turtles deceased after being strangled by or caught in crab nets.

Fishing hooks and lines are also extremely problematic. Taronga Wildlife Hospital Rescue and Rehabilitation Coordinator, Libby Hall, told Yahoo they now see more animals impacted by fishing hooks and fishing lines than they used to.

"It's an increasing problem," she said.

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