Plastic pollution is one of the most critical environmental issues of today. The problem has placed many animals at risk, including turtles that may mistake the plastic for food.
Plastic Pollution Worse For Young Turtles
According to a new study published in the Scientific Reports journal, sea turtles, particularly the young ones, are at risk of dying from ingesting the plastic debris polluting the oceans.
As part of the research, scientists analyzed the autopsies of 246 sea turtles that washed up on Queensland beaches. They discovered that 58 of the turtles had ingested plastic, ranging from one piece to an eye-popping 329 pieces, likely contributing to their death. The others died due to natural causes, such as colliding with boats.
However, of the 58 turtles that ate plastic, only four were adults or near adults. Most of the turtles, 41 of them were young specimens. Very young "post-hatchling" turtles appeared to be even more at risk of eating plastic, because out of the 24 post-hatchlings among the 246 sea turtles, 13 of them had ingested plastic.
One explanation for the higher risk of eating plastic among young turtles is that they swim nearer the surface, where plastic floats.
According to the head of the study, Britta Denise Hardesty, who is also from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Hobart, Australia, young turtles are less selective with what they eat, which is a problem as they encounter higher concentrations of plastic pollution. Hardesty added that plastic may look like jellyfish, squid, crustaceans, or sponges, which are food young turtles.
Further analysis confirmed that the more plastic a turtle eats, the higher the risk of death. For young turtles, eating even just one piece of plastic increases the risk of death by 22 percent.
Cleaning Up The Plastic Pollution In The Ocean
The authors of the study wish to raise awareness among both consumers and political leaders on the threat of plastic pollution to wildlife, and to urge for the formulation of creative, effective, and immediate solutions.
There have been some important initiatives against plastic pollution, such as Seattle's ban against plastic straws and utensils. However, with plastic pollution already reaching as far as Antarctica, a worldwide effort is needed to address the problem, which will hopefully come before it becomes too late.