To save endangered turtles from the oil spill currently hitting Israel, workers at a medical center are turning to mayonnaise for its hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties.
Over 160 kilometers of Israel’s Mediterranean coast were covered in oil last week after a spill some 50 kilometers offshore. This event, considered “One of the most serious ecological disasters the country has ever known” by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), is obviously not without consequences for marine life. And especially for green turtles (Chelonia mydas).
While many of them have unfortunately washed up on Israeli shores in recent days, some, still alive, have been transported to a center in northern Tel Aviv for treatment.
“Their whole trachea was full of tar”Guy Ivgy, a medical assistant at the center, told the AP. To clean the turtle’s digestive tract, the medical team turned to … the Mayonnaise. While the approach may seem odd at first, it is actually quite clever.
Hydrophilic and hydrophobic
Indeed, mayonnaise is an emulsion, that is to say a uniform mixture of two liquids which, normally, avoid mixing. In that case, oil and water. The water here comes from egg yolks and lemon juice or vinegar. If our mayonnaise is uniform in the end, it is because tiny droplets of oil manage to get in between droplets of water during preparation. In other words, oil and water can mix, provided you have a little help (a good boost, and a slow incorporation of fat).
Then note that the oil droplets remain in suspension in the water thanks to a molecule located in the egg yolks and called lecithin. This is hydrophilic on one side (able to mix with water), and hydrophobic on the other (unable to mix with water). It is these properties that interest us here.
Concretely, the hydrophobic parts of the molecules mix with the oily and hydrophobic tar, while the hydrophilic parts mix with water in the digestive system. These interactions promote the formation of small tar balls which are then evacuated much more easily by the turtles when they are relieved. Note that the same treatment also already been used to remove tar from human skin.
Thanks to this approach, 27 turtles saved should recover in a few days before being released back into the wild.
– Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) February 24, 2021
As for the oil spill, its origin is still unclear. An Israeli court recently issued an order restricting the release of any details about him at the government’s request, reports the New York Times. Note that this is not unusual in national security or criminal investigations, but it does mean that the origin of the spill is not yet clearly defined.
A few days ago part of this ordinance was lifted. We know that a vessel is naturally involved, but the ban on publishing the name of the vessel and the operating company is still in effect.