Australian Scientists Found Dead Baby Turtles With Stomachs Full Of Plastic

Australian Scientists Found Dead Baby Turtles With Stomachs Full Of Plastic

Baby sea turtles are incredibly vulnerable to the harmful effects of plastic pollution, as demonstrated by a new study that found about half of the recently hatched reptiles had plastic in their stomachs.

Scientists realize that animals varying from plankton to whales are regularly consuming plastic since about ten million tons of it ends up in the sea each year.

Turtles were among the first creatures ever observed consuming plastic, with reports of bags found in their stomachs stretching back to the 1980s.

Despite the attention the problem has received, there’s still very little known about the effect plastic is having on ocean animals.

While some plastic can pass harmlessly through animals’ digestive systems, it can also accumulate and kill them by either blocking or tearing their guts.

There’s also some evidence to suggest that plastic can leach toxic chemicals into their surroundings, even though the impact this is having on animals is still mostly speculative.

A study published in the journal Nature attempted to quantify the harm plastic is having on the turtle population of eastern Australia.

In the research, a group led by Dr. Britta Denise Hardesty from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) examined data from approximately 1,000 dead turtles to understand the role plastic played in their deaths.

More than half of the post-hatchling individuals had ingested plastic, and about a quarter of the slightly older juveniles were affected, compared to about 15% of adults.

Though the number of plastic pieces in the reptiles’ guts varied wildly from one to more than 300, the scientists managed to deduce that turtles have a 50% probability of death after they consumed fourteen pieces.

The work emerges as another study documents the global decline of turtles and tortoises that has left more than 60% of the world’s species either extinct or facing extinction.

Two centuries ago, sea turtles in the Caribbean Sea were estimated to number in the tens of millions, while recently their numbers were expected to be in the tens of thousands.

Along with their land-based relatives, these lovely creatures play pivotal roles in shaping global ecosystems.