Plastics Killing Turtles

Samantha Zeitz

It may not come as a surprise, but it is yet more evident that we are quickly destroying our environment, including sea life. According to research by the University of Exeter, marine turtles are taking a hit with death rates rising due to plastic pollution in the ocean.

A global survey focusing on major oceans inhabiting turtles found several different kinds of debris the have been frequently harming turtles. This includes: lost fishing nets, plastic twine, nylon fishing lines, six pack rings from canned drinks, plastic packaging straps, plastic balloon strings, kite strings, plastic packaging and discarded anchor lines.

The survey revealed that 91 per cent of turtles that have been entangled in plastic were found dead. Those that weren’t killed still suffered serious injuries that lead to amputation, choking, or becoming disabled. If they were lucky enough to not be injured, the turtles were forced to drag the garbage with them. This can become a real issue for those turtles as some have been found caught in discarded plastic chairs, wooden crates, weather balloons, boat mooring lines and other articles that make it hard for the turtles to move. On top of the dangers of getting entangled in plastic, there’s also concern over how much plastic is being consumed by marine animals.

The research, published in Endangered Species Research, predicts that over 1000 turtles a year will lose their life because of entanglement. Although a figure has been brought forward, researchers say they believe this is still a ‘gross underestimation’ of the impact plastic is having on the ocean. Not all turtles that die get stranded on the shore and can be accounted for. Some drift at sea while others are consumed by locals.

Hatchlings and young turtles are more prone to getting tangled in the debris. They are known to ride ocean currents where the plastic pollution tends to concentrate. This is why Olive Ridley turtles are most likely to be harmed by the pollution since they nest in the hundreds of thousands. Lead author of the study, Professor Brendan Godley, told Science Daily that the level of plastic waste could be a bigger threat to the turtle population than oil spills.

There are efforts being made to help the turtles. Fishermen in Sicily volunteer their time to help turtles they find that have been impacted and often transfer them to rescue centers. Their efforts help but we need to stop polluting oceans and if we really want to save the turtles.