(OCEANS/WILDLIFE CONSERVATION) As if we needed anymore proof of the dangerous ecological footprint humans are leaving on the planet, a study of green and leatherback turtles shows these sea creatures ingest plastic at more than twice the rate they did 25 years ago. Plastic products consumed by turtles and other marine life can be lethal, killing the animals by either blocking their stomachs and starving them, or through puncturing their intestinal system. Conservationists also warn that, in cases where plastic ingestion does not immediately kill a turtle, the animal will suffer from ailments including reproductive complications, which has long-term consequences. Read on for more information regarding plastic waste and the danger it poses to our marine life. — Global Animal
Inhabitat, Taz Loomans
Green turtles are already endangered, and their lot seems to be getting worse. A new study conducted by the University of Queensland and published in the journal Conservation Biology shows that green turtles are significantly more likely to swallow plastic today than they were in the 1980s.
The study found that the likelihood of a green turtle ingesting man-made trash jumped from about 30% to nearly 50% in 2012. It also confirmed that six of the world’s seven species of sea turtles have been found to ingest debris, and all six are listed as globally vulnerable and endangered.
Plastic can be lethal to the turtles who ingest it – the debris can block their stomaches and starve them, or it can puncture their intestinal systems. Plastic can also release toxins when ingested. These chemicals may be already present in the plastics, or absorbed by the plastic while it is floating in the ocean. Qamar Schuyler, who headed the study, says “the animal may not die of that right away, but it may impact things like their reproductive cycle – and that has longer term consequences.”
Oddly, the study showed that turtles washing up with lots of plastic in their system were not more prevalent in populated areas than they were in other areas of the world. For example, stranded turtles found adjacent to heavily populated New York City showed little or no evidence of debris ingestion, while all of the stranded turtles found near an undeveloped area of southern Brazil had eaten debris.
This means that the problem isn’t just a matter of local shore clean up – it requires a global solution.
“Our results show clearly that debris ingestion by sea turtles is a global phenomenon of increasing magnitude,” says the report.