An unlikely hero is emerging in Israel’s fight to save sea turtles from one of the country’s worst ecological disasters. Mayonnaise is making the difference between life and death for some turtles affected by the estimated 1,000 tons of tar washing up on Israel’s Mediterranean coastline.

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North of Tel Aviv, at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, medical assistant Guy Ivgy is helping to treat 11 turtles. “They came to us full of tar,” Ivgy said. “All their trachea from inside and outside was full of tar.” Turtle rescue workers have found that feeding the fatty, egg-based condiment to the turtles helps flush out their tar-clogged digestive tracks. Within a week or two, workers hope to release the turtles back into the wild.

Related: Volunteers brave winter storm to save cold-stunned sea turtles

The source of all this tar is still shrouded in mystery. It likely came from an oil tanker passing the Israeli coast a week or so ago. Israeli officials think that a ship spilled tens — or maybe even hundreds — of tons of oil outside Israel’s territorial waters. Then, without warning, chunks of tar starting washing up on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon.

Because tar irritates human skin and can cause illness, people have been warned to stay off beaches — except for the 4,000 or so volunteers doing the cleanup to minimize damage to wildlife. The spill’s “consequences will be seen for years to come,” according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Sea birds and other animals in the Mediterranean have also ingested spilled oil. Scientists are especially worried about Dendropoma petraeum, a type of reef-building snail whose population has already plummeted from global warming.

Earlier this week, an Israeli court forbade publishing any details of the investigation, including the name of the suspected ship and its itinerary. Israeli journalists have petitioned the court to lift the ban. People want to know who is responsible for this destruction — and where to send the bill.

Via AP and NPR

Image via Kandhal Keshvala