Plastic use threatens sea turtles and other marine life with extinction, study finds
Sea Turtles represent one of the most highly threatened groups of wildlife in today’s world. Pollution, bycatch, destruction of nesting habitat and hunting have served to make 4 of the 7 extant species highly threatened. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, our everyday habits might end up pushing the survivors beyond the brink. A recent study indicates that consuming plastic waste greatly increases the risk of mortality to juvenile and adult sea turtles. The study also predicts that such waste could affect marine food webs on a large scale, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The study, spearheaded by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and the University of Georgia, was carried out on 96 “post-hatchling”(a term used to refer to juveniles and adults) turtles found along the coast of Florida. Half of these turtles were later rehabilitated, with a further 27 being studied extensively. All these turtles were found to have plastic waste in their stomachs. 3 of the turtles died after capture, possibly from the ingestion of these toxic materials.
Sea turtles are believed to confuse plastic wastes for jellyfish, a common prey item. The scale of this issue is likely to lead to population decline, according to the scientists who carried out the study. They believe that at this rate, the number of sea turtles capable of reproducing might not be enough to sustain their species. Furthermore, studies upon the plastic matter ingested found that they often break up into tiny pieces in the digestive tract, making them inherently unstable. This can further threaten the digestive systems of sea turtles.
Numerous other marine species, both large and small, are at risk from this toxic threat. From sea lions and seabirds to baby fish and possibly even plankton might be among them. Declines in small marine fauna can easily cause the collapse of entire food webs, because of the high levels of dependence that other species have upon them.
Plastic waste pollutes not only our immediate surroundings, but also the vital habitats of highly endangered species. Only by moving towards a plastic-free world can we prevent our oceans from turning into lifeless kingdoms of toxic waste.