A loggerhead sea turtle that was rescued in 2014 with a hole in her shell and a spine curvature is now thriving thanks to a 3D-printed brace that was custom-made for her by a team of scientists and engineers.
The turtle, who lives at San Diego’s Birch Aquarium, was found near a power plant in New Jersey. She was severely underweight and had paralysis of her back flippers. She also had an abnormal growth of her shell that was causing further damage to her spine and internal organs.
To help her heal and grow more normally, the aquarium partnered with the Digital Media Lab at UC San Diego Library to create a first-of-its-kind 3D-printed brace for her shell. The brace was designed using CT scans and 3D renders of the turtle’s shell. It was made of rigid white plastic that fit snugly over the gap in her shell and provided support and pressure as needed.
“We teamed up with the Digital Media Lab at Geisel Library to create a brace that will prevent the shell from curving further downward and will promote more normal growth. It’s our goal to prevent further complications and keep her as healthy and happy as possible,” said Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care of the aquarium, in a statement.
The brace was attached to the turtle’s shell in 2017 and has been adjusted several times since then as she grew. In 2023, the turtle weighed 210 pounds and had a healthy-looking shell. She also showed signs of improved mobility and behavior.
The aquarium hopes that the turtle’s story will inspire people to care more about marine life and the threats they face from human activities. The turtle is also an example of how 3D-printing can be used for wildlife conservation and innovation.
“By bringing back interactive feedings and introducing new offerings, the aquarium hopes to advance its mission of connecting understanding to protecting our ocean planet with new, fun, and engaging activities for our guests to enjoy,” said Harry Helling, the executive director at Birch Aquarium.
The turtle can be seen by visitors at the aquarium’s Loggerhead Sea Turtle Exhibit. She is one of the few loggerhead sea turtles in human care in the United States. Loggerhead sea turtles are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are threatened by habitat loss, fishing gear entanglement, pollution and climate change.
– Sea Turtle Thrives Years After Receiving 3D-Printed Shell Brace, My Modern Met, May 25, 2023
– Brace Yourself – 3-D Technology Helps Sea Turtle Thrive, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, May 26, 2023
– Sea Turtle with 3D-Printed Shell Piece Continues to Thrive Years After Innovative Procedure, People.com, May 22, 2023
– Sea Turtle with 3D-Printed Shell Piece Continues to Thrive Years After Innovative Procedure, DTF China, May 22, 2023