Sea Turtles Accidentally Eat Plastic Waste, Mistaking It for Jellyfish

National Geographic has broadcast a scene of a sea turtle eating jellyfish.

But at the same time, these sea turtles are also eating plastic bags, as they mistake these for jellyfish.

The accumulation and spread of plastic marine debris has had an impact on the whole marine environment. Many marine animals have been harmed by plastic waste, regardless of either directly or indirectly.

One of the examples is the ingestion of marine plastic debris.

The accidental ingestion of marine debris has already been reported among all seven species of sea turtles (Kühn et al. 2015).

We can trace the first report of plastic ingestion by a sea turtle to 1968 (Mrosovsky et al. 2009).

Sea turtles have a tendency to eat soft and transparent debris, such as plastic bags (Schuyler et al. 2014). They probably eat them because they mistake them for jellyfish (Mrosovsky et al. 2009, Tourinho et al. 2010, Campani et al. 2013, Schuyler et al. 2014). They also often accidentally consume pieces of rubber balloons. 

In another case, they tried to eat food that was stuck to a piece of plastic, and eventually ate the plastic itself (McCauley & Bjorndal 1999, Tomas et al. 2002). For example, the plastics being retrieved from the stomachs of loggerhead sea turtle sometimes have seawater strider eggs on them (Frick et al. 2009). This indicates that they may have eaten the piece of plastic while trying to eat the eggs (Kühn et al. 2015).

Plastics accidentally ingested by sea turtles are easily carried to the intestine. Therefore, almost all of the plastic debris is found in their intestines rather than in their stomachs (Bugoni et al 2001, Tourinho et al. 2010, Campani et al. 2013).

Eventually, the ingestion of plastics causes damage to the intestine and affects its function, including intestinal blockage.

According to a study that took place in the Mediterranean, 71% of loggerhead sea turtles checked had plastic waste in their digestive tract. They also found that adult sea turtles had more ingested waste than juvenile sea turtles; 27 pieces of waste on average were found among adult sea turtles, compared to 19 pieces of waste on average found among juvenile sea turtles (Campani et al. 2013).

It has been proved that among loggerhead sea turtles and green sea turtles, the more plastics they eat, the worse their nutritional status becomes (Lutz 1990McCauley & Bjorndal 1999).

By consuming large amounts of utterly non-nutritive plastic, they become unable to eat real food and end up starving to death (Bugoni et al 2001, Mrosovsky et al. 2009, Tourinho et al. 2010).

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