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Plastic pollution is killing sea turtles

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

The world wild life fund recently published a great article, explaining how plastic pollution is killing sea turtles. Imagine you’re in your kitchen and as you approach the counter-top your absolute favourite snack appears right in front of you.

It looks just like food, it basically smells like food, so you grab it and gulp it down.

This happens to sea turtles every day when they consume plastic debris in the ocean.

Why do sea turtles eat plastic?

Plastic bags look very similar to jellyfish, fishing nets often look like tasty seaweed. Sea turtles think they’re consuming some of their staple foods when really they’re welcoming harmful substances into their digestive tract.

Human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners. Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as Endangered, and plastic is doing more than its share of damage.

Dugong in Moreton bay

To support this commitment, Council announced in May 2018 that it would ban the use of single-use plastic drinking straws, and phase out helium balloons and single-use plastic water bottles from Council operations and events. Council encourages our partners and the community to do the same.

Straws, helium balloons and single-use plastic water bottles are not environmentally friendly for the following reasons. 

Ingesting plastics isn’t a harmless mistake, the consumption of this man-made material can cost sea turtles their lives. That’s because plastic can cause blockages in their intestines and even pierce the intestinal wall causing internal bleeding.

Perhaps the most distressing fate of all is when the plastic in the turtle’s stomach imitates the sensation of being full. Turtles then neglect to seek out other food sources and ultimately die from starvation.

Sadly, it’s not only the consumption of plastic that poses a threat to these marine reptiles, when turtles get entangled in plastic debris they risk choking to death, losing limbs and generally injuring themselves (sometimes beyond repair).

The fishing industry is a serious threat in itself. While turtles are strong swimmers they often become entangled in fishing gear, and once weighted down they’re unable to surface and subsequently drown.

In recent years, global turtle population numbers have noticeably decreased and in many ways that’s due to plastic.

Research conducted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) found that a turtle had a 22% chance of dying if it ate just one piece of plastic. Once a turtle had 14 plastic items in its gut, there was a 50% likelihood that it would die.

Their analysis included a sample of nearly 1,000 turtles found dead and washed up on beaches around Australia.

Globally it's estimated that approximately 52% of all sea turtles have eaten plastic.

Further research by the University of Exeter in England examined the way plastics affect mortality rates for sea turtles internationally. According to their findings, 91% of turtles entangled in discarded fishing gear died. In fact, out of the 106 marine experts they surveyed, 84% claimed they had directly witnessed the death of turtles due to plastics.

To top it all off, it’s very likely that all of the above statistics are conservative at best. Each estimate is based on turtles found, but many dead sea turtles are never recovered. Many turtles simply die at sea and are never seen again and even those found on beaches are collected for food.

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