Marine turtles in rehab in Ecuador beachside hospital

SALANGO, Ecuador, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Marine turtles hurt by ocean trash undergo rehab in an animal hospital in southern Ecuador, recovering enough to return to the wild or at least educate the world about their plight.

Most turtles rescued by the Marine Fauna Rehabilitation Center in Manabi province have trash or fish hooks in their intestines. They often confuse plastic with jellyfish and eat it. Many have fractures from being hit by fishermen or tangled in nets, said veterinarian Ruben Aleman.

Aleman, who founded the center in 2012, carefully cleans the injured shell of an olive ridley sea turtle, a rare species whose adults reach about two feet long and weigh about 100 lb. It has spent the last year in rehab from severe shell damage and surgery to remove plastic from its esophagus.

The turtle is one of dozens at the center, all from species threatened to some degree with extinction.

"Before the center was created the marine turtles would get stranded and die, but now we rescue them and give them another chance," Aleman said in an interview. "Humans are the cause."

The center has rehabilitated and returned to the wild nearly 300 adult turtles, dozens of birds and some sea lions since its creation and uses medical equipment suitable for humans, like an oxygenation machine, X-rays and blood sample tests.

One turtle - which lost its front fins during a surgery to remove netting, plastic and fish hooks - has been fitted with a pair of prosthetics.

That turtle can swim, but will never be able to return to the wild, Aleman said.

"It will be a turtle which helps to educate and raise awareness about the damage they suffer," he said. "They are vulnerable."

Rehabilitation for turtles can last years, as they slowly transition to swimming pools and then to the sea, initially accompanied by volunteers.

"The idea is to take them out on the sea so they are inspired to swim and move their fins," said biologist and center volunteer May Platt. "If they aren't yet ready and safe they don't go, they stay with us."

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Richard Chang

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.