American Oceans

Scientists Say Sea Turtles Will Be Plagued By Plastic Forever

a sea turtle eating plastic int he ocean

The presence of plastic has reached a critical point in our oceans, greatly impacting marine life, particularly sea turtles. In just a few decades, human activities and plastic production have drastically altered marine habitats, and as a result, sea turtles now encounter plastic pollution from the moment they hatch.

Before the problem of plastic pollution became widespread, sea turtles enjoyed a life free of any plastic interaction. However, that is no longer the case, as studies now reveal that more than 90% of loggerhead hatchlings off the coast of Florida have ingested plastic. As these turtles mature, their chances of plastic exposure continue to increase.

Abandoned fishing gear poses a significant threat, causing lacerations or entanglement and even drowning sea turtles. Furthermore, plastic bags that resemble jellyfish are easily mistaken for food, which may lead to suffocation or, once ingested, fatal blockages in their digestive systems. Even when larger plastic items break down, the resulting microplastics remain hazardous, causing damage to digestive tracts or impeding proper nutrition.

Though sea turtles have naturally long life spans, reversing the plastic pollution problem is a monumental challenge. Even if plastic pollution ceased today, it could still take centuries for the oceans to regain a plastic-free status. There is a possibility that sea turtles may never again live plastic-free lives, as they did for tens of millions of years before human intervention.

Beyond the immediate threats posed by plastic ingestion and entanglement, plastic pollution can also damage sea turtles’ habitat, such as suffocating coral reefs and altering nesting beaches. Female turtles might inadvertently bury their eggs beneath plastic debris, and the accumulation of plastic on shores may worsen sex imbalances in turtle populations due to temperature increases in the sand.

If we want to improve the future for sea turtles, it would be beneficial to remove as much plastic from the oceans as possible and prevent further pollution. While we may not be able to return to a completely plastic-free world, we can still take steps to lessen the extensive damage caused by plastics. Conservation efforts play a critical role in preserving marine life, but ultimately, efforts to reduce plastic production and waste are essential for the long-term well-being of sea turtles and the marine habitats they call home.

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