Newly hatched sea turtles in Florida, US, have enough challenges on their plate – without the added threat of eating lethal amounts of plastic!
A newly published study highlights the harrowing impact that plastic has on baby loggerhead turtles found dead on beaches in Florida. While examining the dead babies’ stomach and intestine contents, it was discovered that 93% had ingested plastic in startling amounts.
Scientists and rehabilitators at The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience and the Sea Turtle Hospital at the University of Florida revealed how one turtle that weighed 1.6 ounces (48 grams) had ingested 287 plastic pieces. Another hatchling that weighed less than one ounce (27 grams) had ingested 119 separate pieces of plastic. The smallest turtle in their study, with a shell just 1.8 inches (4.6 centimeters) long, had ingested a piece of plastic one-fourth the length of its shell.
Plastic can look – and even smell – a lot like the natural foods that make up the diets of sea turtles. A floating plastic bag can easily be mistaken for a tasty jellyfish. While algae coated plastic can smell delicious to plant-eating turtles.
Bags can cause intestinal blockages leaving turtles unable to feed, resulting in starvation, while sharp plastics can rupture organs. Those who survive often suffer lifelong effects. Eating plastic can make turtles unnaturally buoyant, which can stunt their growth and lead to slow reproduction rates.
Entanglement in plastic can easily kill them through drowning or preventing individuals from escaping predators or hunting. Key nesting beaches across the globe are engulfed with plastic trash. It’s a death sentence for baby turtles trying to navigate a sea of litter while trying to reach the ocean.
“Plastic has only been mass-produced since the 1940s, but it’s having a devastating impact on our oceans. Along with turtles, 700 other sea life species are dying including fish, seabirds, and marine mammals,” said David Barritt of Network for Animals (NFA).
“Even the deepest sea creatures like whales can’t escape plastic pollution. What so many don’t realize is that plastic is permanent and indestructible; A plastic packet cast into the ocean doesn’t go away – ever.”
Barritt continued to say there is an urgent need to stop plastic from getting into oceans and to tackle existing marine litter on shorelines across all the continents.
“We all have a responsibility to protect our oceans. Recycling and being more mindful of where, when, and how we dispose of our trash are among the most effective ways in which we can do our part to stop killing the ocean. Because we all know that without the ocean, there is no life on earth,” concluded Barritt.