Widespread plastic pollution harming young turtles

“Relatively few young marine turtles survive their first year, so it is imperative that we reduce threats to ensure the long-term survival of these extraordinary species.”

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A recent study published in Frontiers in Marine Science found that the ingestion of plastic by marine turtles is now reported for all species but is a higher risk for young turtles. 

The animals’ natural development strategy puts them at greater risk of swallowing some of the eight million tons of plastic that enter the world’s oceans every year, reports EcoWatch.

The young turtles researched in the study were from the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. These turtles were either stranded or caught unintentionally. 

“Juvenile turtles have evolved to develop in the open ocean, where predators are relatively scarce. However, our results suggest that this evolved behavior now leads them into a ‘trap’ – bringing them into highly polluted areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Juvenile sea turtles generally have no specialized diet – they eat anything, and our study suggests this includes plastic. We don’t yet know what impact ingesting plastic has on juvenile turtles, but any losses at these early stages of life could have a significant impact on population levels,” says Dr. Emily Duncan from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation. 

According to The Guardian, the team notes that most of the plastic found inside the turtles was polyethylene or polypropylene, but it was not possible to determine the specific sources of these widely used polymers.

“Relatively few young marine turtles survive their first year, so it is imperative that we reduce threats to ensure the long-term survival of these extraordinary species,” says Mark Wright, director of science at the World Wide Fund for Nature, who was not part of the study. 

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