This Amount of Plastic Kills Sea Turtles
“We knew that turtles were consuming a lot of plastic, but we didn’t know for certain whether that plastic actually caused the turtles’ deaths, or whether the turtles just happened to have plastic in them when they died,” Dr. Chris Wilcox, Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, said in a press release.
“In other words, we wanted to know ‘How much plastic is too much plastic?’ for sea turtles.”
Unfortunately, as soon as a turtle has around 14 pieces of plastic in its stomach, there is a 50 percent chance it will die, but that’s not to say a turtle won’t die after ingesting just one piece of plastic.
Image: Plastic removed from the large intestine of green sea turtle, Photograph by Kathy Townsend
The most common plastic found within the turtles’ stomachs tended to be soft, translucent film-like bits of plastic, which Britta Denise Hardesty, the Principal Research Scientist and Team Leader of the study, explains in an email is due to plastics’ likeness to jellyfish.
Once plastic is ingested the turtle has a 50 percent chance of survival. Hardesty explains in an email that when plastic enters a turtle’s body, it can kill the turtle in mostly two ways.
“[The most common cause of death in turtles when ingesting plastic is] through blocking the gut (often with a piece of thin, film-like plastic) so no food and nutrients can pass through and be absorbed, or by puncturing or cutting their gut (such as by a hard, sharp piece of plastic).”
So, is it too late to save Earth’s sea turtles?
Hardesty remains optimistic.
“No, it is not too late. Though it is disheartening to know that more than 50 percent of sea turtles have likely eaten plastic and that even a small amount can kill them, I’d like to think that we humans can do better,” Hardesty explains in an email.
“So I would say, let’s turn off the tap, let’s keep plastic out of our oceans, and let’s work with industry and the fishing community to reduce plastic inputs to the ocean.”
Lead Image: Green Sea Turtle, Photograph by Kathy Townsend