We’ve all seen harrowing pictures of sea life trapped in nets and choking on plastic – now, a new study brings to life just how damaging the rubbish dumped in our oceans can be to wildlife.
Turtles are at “significant risk” because they are unable to regurgitate anything, according to researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
Plastic resembling turtles’ natural food – such as plastic bags, which can be mistaken for jellyfish – was ingested at a higher rate than other types of rubbish. Researchers estimate half of all sea turtles have ingested plastic, throwing the long-term survival of some species into jeopardy.
They estimate that by consuming just one item of plastic a turtle has a 20% chance of death, rising to 50% if they swallowed 14 pieces.
Turtles and other sea life can also drown from becoming trapped in nets and plastic bags but this study looked only at the effects of swallowing it.
Younger turtles in particular tend to swallow small bits of plastic, they said, because they spend more time floating on the surface of the sea where lightweight rubbish floats. Alarmingly, 90% of young green sea turtles in Brazil are estimated to have swallowed the stuff.
The researchers, which think a tax on plastic might help drive down our consumption told the BBC consumers and businesses needed to “rethink” their relationship with the material.
“Let’s put a true cost on plastic so they have a similar value to aluminium cans which we don’t find lost in the environment, they get picked up and they don’t get mismanaged and find their way out into the ocean,” researcher Dr Hardesty said.