Plastics and Sea Turtles Toxic Mix
What is Killing The Sea Turtles - Unintended Circumstances of Our Disposable World
Marine debris is mostly made up of plastic. We have over 5.25 trillion particles of plastic in our oceans. Marine animals suffer tremendously from our increased consumption of non-biodegradable plastic and the various practices we undertake. For example, offshore garbage dumping by ships at sea was legal until the 1980s. Massive balloon launches is also extremely bad for sea life. Ingestion of marine debris affects over 170 species. Sea turtles are among the most vulnerable to marine debris ingestion as they often mistake marine debris as food, such as jellyfish, or they ingest marine debris that is entangled in their food source. In the man-made category, plastic bags and utensils appear to be the most prevalent material ingested.
Ingestion of plastic by sea turtles interferes with their energy metabolism and gut function. If sufficient material is swallowed to cause a complete stoppage of the gut, death will result from starvation.
The number of turtles that have ingested plastic is also alarmingly high. For example, plastic bags were found in 23% of a sample of green sea turtles in Peruvian waters in one study. In another study, 44% of adult non-breeding leatherbacks were found to have plastic in their stomachs.
A recent study found hawksbill turtles being at the highest risk of plastic ingestion, followed by green and leatherback turtles. Sea turtles are currently eating more plastic than ever before. Green sea turtles are twice as likely to ingest plastic now compared to 1985. Smaller, oceanic-stage turtles are more likely to ingest plastic compared to coastal foragers, whereas herbivores or gelatinovores are more likely to ingest plastic than carnivores.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between high levels of debris ingestion locally and high concentrations of marine debris, due to long migrations of sea turtles. For example, turtles found near the heavily populated and polluted New York City showed little or no evidence of debris ingestion, while all turtles found near an undeveloped area of southern Brazil had ingested debris. Thus, conducting coastal cleanups is a start but not the single answer. Global solutions are needed, such as effective waste management strategies and engaging with industry to implement appropriate controls to reduce marine debris.
Here are some ways you could help to reduce your own plastic consumption:
1. Refuse plastic bags and use reusable bags.
2. Don’t use straws or use reusable straws
3. Use your own water bottle instead of buying water in plastic bottles
4. Bring your own container
5. Use matches instead of lighters
6. Don’t use plastic forks, spoons or knives, use reusable utensils
7. Build your own plastic recycle machine: see precious plastic’s