Sea Turtles of Okinawa

Reduce your plastic use as a first step to save sea turtles


By jhjanicki on Friday,October 7th, 2016 in Awareness, Conservation, Marine Debris, Research, No Comments

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Marine debris is mostly made up of plastic. We have over 5.25 trillion particles of plastic in our oceans. Marine animals suffer tremendously from our increased consumption of non-biodegradable plastic and the various practices we undertake. For example, offshore garbage dumping by ships at sea was legal until the 1980s. Massive balloon launches is also extremely bad for sea life. Ingestion of marine debris affects over 170 species. Sea turtles are among the most vulnerable to marine debris ingestion as they often mistake marine debris as food, such as jellyfish, or they ingest marine debris that is entangled in their food source. In the man-made category, plastic bags and utensils appear to be the most prevalent material ingested.


Image from NOAA

Image from NOAA


Ingestion of plastic by sea turtles interferes with their energy metabolism and gut function. If sufficient material is swallowed to cause a complete stoppage of the gut, death will result from starvation.

The number of turtles that have ingested plastic is also alarmingly high. For example, plastic bags were found in 23% of a sample of green sea turtles in Peruvian waters in one study. In another study, 44% of adult non-breeding leatherbacks were found to have plastic in their stomachs.

A recent study found hawksbill turtles being at the highest risk of plastic ingestion, followed by green and leatherback turtles. Sea turtles are currently eating more plastic than ever before. Green sea turtles are twice as likely to ingest plastic now compared to 1985. Smaller, oceanic-stage turtles are more likely to ingest plastic compared to coastal foragers, whereas herbivores or gelatinovores are more likely to ingest plastic than carnivores.

However, there doesn’t seem to be a relationship between high levels of debris ingestion locally and high concentrations of marine debris, due to long migrations of sea turtles. For example, turtles found near the heavily populated and polluted New York City showed little or no evidence of debris ingestion, while all turtles found near an undeveloped area of southern Brazil had ingested debris. Thus, conducting coastal cleanups is a start but not the single answer. Global solutions are needed, such as effective waste management strategies and engaging with industry to implement appropriate controls to reduce marine debris.


Here are some ways you could help to reduce your own plastic consumption:

1. Refuse plastic bags and use reusable bags.
2. Don’t use straws or use reusable straws
3. Use your own water bottle instead of buying water in plastic bottles
4. Bring your own container
5. Use matches instead of lighters
6. Don’t use plastic forks, spoons or knives, use reusable utensils
7. Build your own plastic recycle machine: see precious plastic’s website

See here for more things you can do to reduce plastic consumption.

Be aware of what is going on in your area regarding actions taken against plastic bags and other waste:
For example, you can find out about what is happening in California regarding plastic bag ban here. Think about what actions you can take locally.

Resources from this article:
Studies on the ingestion of plastic and latex by sea turtles by Peter Lutz
Global Analysis of Anthropogenic Debris Ingestion by Sea Turtles by Qamar Schuyler, Britta Denise Hardesty, Chris Wilcox, and Kathy Townsend
Plastic debris in the open ocean by Andrés Cózara et al.
Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea by Marcus Eriksen et al.


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