How are sea turtles affected by plastic?

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental concerns facing our world today. With an estimated 150 million tons of plastic waste already floating around our oceans; the issue presents a significant threat to our aquatic wildlife. Thousands of species are in danger of being lost from our planet forever, however some animals are especially vulnerable to the effects of plastic debris.

 Sea turtles are one such example. According to recent research which looked at a sample of 102 sea turtles from each of the seven species across the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean Sea; all the turtles had ingested plastic. Globally, it’s estimated that fifty percent of all sea turtles have ingested plastic.

 Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles die each year as a result of contaminated marine habitats and a significant proportion of these deaths are due to becoming entangled in plastic debris or, equally as deadly, consuming it.

 According to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found there was a one in five chance of death for a turtle who consumed just one piece of plastic, that risk increases to fifty percent for fourteen pieces. This risk is even more pronounced for young turtles. Just think, if fifty percent of all sea turtles have ingested plastic and twenty percent of turtles die from ingesting a single piece—the numbers are staggering!

 One of the key reasons it’s such an issue, beyond the sheer volume of plastic pollution in our oceans, is that the plastic can resemble food sources for turtles, such as jellyfish or seagrass. Because of the way their digestive systems work, turtles are unable to regurgitate anything they have eaten. This means that anything consumed by a sea turtle, even by mistake, remains in their bodies. When plastic is consumed, the animals often suffer blockages that lead to their deaths. Alternatively, the plastic in their intestines can damage the turtles’ ability to absorb the food they are eating. This essentially leads to nutrient deprivation over time and ultimately, to starvation.

 Sea turtles have the potential to live until they are around eighty years old and are typically able to reproduce for decades. Unfortunately, given the vulnerability of young turtles to plastic contamination, researchers are becoming concerned about the long term impact on the future of the species. If we don’t challenge our relationship with plastic and change our consumption habits, one of our planet’s most ancient animals may be lost from the world forever.

 If you’re interested in reducing your reliance on plastics and moving towards a plastic-free life, there are plenty of little things you can do that will make a huge impact. If we all make small changes in our everyday lives, we may just be able to come together and prevent plastic pollution from destroying our planet.