Bioengineers develop prosthetic fins for sea turtles injured by trawling nets

Auckland University of Technology bioengineers have developed prosthetic fins to help sea turtles injured by trawling nets. 

Dr Lorenzo Garcia and his PhD fellow Nick van der Geest love mathematics, and they've been using it to help solve a problem deep in the ocean.

"All the species of turtles are endangered so now we try to help them," says Garcia, biomechanic team leader.

Van der Geest says rather than designing the prosthetic fin with a pen and paper, they're using maths to predict how it should look.

"We didn't even need to touch an animal to understand the results," Garcia says.

The team 3D printed fins and attached them to their turtle robot. In a live turtle, the attachment works like a hip implant.

"The real implants are all 3D printed of a titanium alloy. And there's a rubber fin that's cast over the skeletal system to give it the flexibility it needs to bio-mimic the real thing," van der Geest says.

To do that, they've been testing the robot turtle in a saltwater swimming pool.

"We sent four of the implants to the Canary Islands. We're working also with Auckland Zoo and a wildlife centre in Byron Bay in Australia," Garcia says.

The implants in live turtles are still in the very early stages of testing, but they believe the number-crunching has reduced trial and error on animals that have already been traumatised.

"If you really want to create an impact just study maths, because maths is what allowed us to anticipate the results," Garcia says.

Results that could see science mimicking life to save the turtles.