The Problem of Ocean Plastic Affecting Sea Turtles

Wild animals becoming entangled in marine debris has been reported all over the world. Many ocean animals have become entangled in discarded plastic, such as nets and other fishing gear (ghost nets) (Laist 1997).

For marine turtles, the number of species that are affected by entanglement is 100% (7 out of the 7 species) (Kühn et al. 2015). In northern Australia, which has a high incidence of floating ghost nets, the  estimated quantity of sea turtles becoming entangled annually, worst case scenario, is as high as 14,600 (Wilcox et al. 2015). Sea turtles that have been entangled in ghost nets are incapacitated, affecting their ability to move, eat, and breathe (Laist 1997).In addition, once marine debris entangles animals, skin lesions occur and putrefaction progresses, and they often lose their limbs (Orós et al. 2005, Barreiros & Raykov 2014).

Entanglement in marine debris by sea turtles does not only occur in the sea.

Baby sea turtles that have just hatched on the beach start to run to the sea in unison. At that moment, they can become caught and entangled in fishing gear scattered on the beach (Kasparek 1995, Ozdilek et al. 2006, Triessing et al. 2012).

Marine debris can also affect mother sea turtles when they land on the beach to lay their eggs. Sea turtles also cannot dig holes to lay eggs on a messy beach that is covered in marine debris (Kasparek 1995).

Furthermore, marine debris has a negative effect on sea turtle eggs. If the beach is fully covered in plastic, it might be hard for the surface temperature of the beach to increase because plastic warms more slowly and reaches lower maximum temperatures than sand (Carson et al. 2011).

These changes have a potential effect on sea turtle eggs, as these have temperature-dependent sex-determination (Carson et al. 2011).

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