Sea Turtles Threatened By Plastic Pollution, Researchers Say
Scientists have long understood the devastating affects that plastic bags, bottles and other byproducts have on marine ecosystems. Now it appears that plastic pollution has had significant impacts on populations of all seven sea turtle species, a new study reveals.
"I was shocked at how little is known about the impacts of plastic on marine turtles," Sarah Nelms, one of the study's lead authors from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter, said in a news release. "We know that discarded plastic poses a serious threat to wildlife, but this study shows that more research is urgently needed if we are to understand the scale of the problem."
Annual global plastic production has grown from 1.5 million tons to 299 million tons in the last 65 years, according to the release. This only increases the amount of plastic pollution that ends up on both land and at sea. While previous studies have identified the threat of plastic pollution on seabird populations, for the recent study researchers specifically examined how sea turtles ingest or become entangled in discarded plastic debris.
"When turtles ingest plastic, they can suffer intestinal blockage that can result in malnutrition which can in turn lead to poor health, reduced growth rates, lower reproductive output and even death," Professor Brendan Godley, who led the team in their study, said in a statement. "It is sobering to think that almost every piece of plastic that ever entered the sea is still there; breaking down and forming a vast soup of microplastics that could have frightening long-term repercussions."
When plastic materials are discarded at sea, turtles and other marine animals risk becoming entangled in the debris. This could lead to lacerations, increased drag when swimming, and ultimately death from drowning or starvation. Beach-bound hatchlings face equal threat, and if newborn sea turtles are threatened, populations may not be able to rebound.
The study, recently published in the ICES Journal of Marine Science, highlights mitigation policies conservationists can use to better protect sea turtle populations.
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