The open oceans are chock-full of plastic trash, and more is being added every single day primarily via coastal dumping at the alarming rate of 4-12 million tonnes per year.
(From Forbes / by Shaena Montanari) –Unsurprisingly, new research shows this has the potential to be disastrous for the animals that are forced to live amongst it. A risk analysis presented by an international research group in the journal Global Change Biology this week shows sea turtles off the coast of the eastern USA, Australia, and South Africa are at the highest risk of ingesting wayward plastic trash that has been dumped into the ocean. Turtle populations in the east Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia are also at a significant risk. Lead study author Qamar Schuyler of the University of Queensland reports “the results indicate that approximately 52% of turtles world-wide have eaten debris.”
The plastic trash that turtles eat can pierce their gut lining, block their digestive tracts, and even poison them with toxic chemicals. All six species of sea turtle live and feed in the open ocean where the bulk of this trash accumulates, but due to their specific habits are at different risks of ingestion. This analysis shows olive ridley turtles are most at risk due to their diet and foraging habits—as generalist predators with a penchant for jellyfish, olive ridleys have a greater chance of ingesting plastic as they feed in the mid-water column. Turtles like loggerheads have habitats that overlap with known plastic garbage gyres, but they tend to feed more on hard-shelled crabs and mollusks that live on the ocean floor, decreasing their risk of consuming floating plastics.