Why are turtles eating plastic these days, and how does it harm them?
Research brings forward the shocking fact that 52% of the world’s turtles have eaten plastic waste. The increasing presence of plastic in oceans is a persistent threat to marine life. More than 700 species have come in contact with plastic in the oceans. Plastic has made its way to the deepest parts of the oceans.
A study published by Frontiers in Marine Science shows that small juvenile turtles from the Indian and Pacific Oceans have the highest incidence of plastic ingestion. At this age, consuming plastic can cause mortality due to laceration, obstruction, or gastrointestinal tract perforation. It can also lead to malnutrition or chemical contamination.
This blog dives deeper into why turtles eat plastic and how it harms the ecological balance. There are also a few actionable tips to reduce your contribution to this disaster.
Reasons why turtles might be eating plastic!
The floating plastic bags look like jellyfish. The turtles get confused and chase the plastic bag to get a bite. Little does it know that it is moving towards death with every piece of that plastic bag. The appearance and smell of plastic items change as they remain in the water for a few days. A layer of algae and other microorganisms forms on the plastic. Due to this formation, plastic smells like a sea creature. This attracts the turtles to go and explore the object.
Plastic with a layer of organisms is known as biofouled plastic. The research concluded that turtles respond to biofouled plastic and food similarly. This means that whenever a plastic product stays in the water longer, it will become attractive to the turtles. They will eventually mistake it for food and ingest the plastic. This is known as an ‘olfactory trap’.
If plastic waste continues to be dumped in the oceans, we will soon face a time when such valuable creatures will be extinct. Regular ingestion of plastic components will drastically reduce their lifespan. Sea turtles are one of the most crucial parts of the Marine Ecosystem, and their absence can cause a huge imbalance.
What will happen if sea turtles go extinct?
Being concerned about the existence of sea turtles is necessary. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem. Here are three main reasons the planet needs sea turtles to function healthily.
Marine Ecosystem Imbalance
Sea turtles are a part of the marine food chain. They eat many creatures and organisms in the ocean and are a meal for other bigger sea creatures. Hawkbill turtles are known for eating sponges that are competitors of coral reefs. These turtles preserve the presence of coral reef diversities by consuming the sponges.
Coral reefs protect the shoreline from storms and erosions. It also provides the local communities with jobs. The absence of coral reefs largely impacts the biodiversity underwater.
Nutrients for beaches
The sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach by forming a hole amidst the sand. Some eggs give babies, while some unhatched eggs stay in the sand. The leftover materials from the eggs are filled with nutrients.
The sand, vegetation and trees near the coastal area get help through this mixture. This nutrient-filled leftover helps the beaches grow and also prevents coastal erosion. Thus, a reduction or extinction of sea turtles will eventually affect the health of the coastal areas and surrounding vegetation.
Carrier of food
Sea turtles roam around the ocean swiftly throughout their lifespan. They are known to live for many years. As they grow, the shell on their back grows too. This shell carries food for various fishes and other marine creatures. The algae and other microorganisms stick to the back. It travels with the turtle throughout the ocean. Fishes feed off their backs and satisfy their hunger.
What can we do to save the turtles from eating plastic?
You might feel that we don’t live near the oceans so we don’t litter the water. Well, the plastics you dispose of in the dustbin eventually end up in the water bodies. If you live near the ocean, the best step you can take is to conduct coastal clean-ups with your friends, dear ones or anyone who believes in the cause. There are already many groups and NGOs working on this.
For individuals living far away from the ocean, eliminate plastic from your life. Try changing one habit and slowly eradicate its presence from your life. Sea turtles are lovely creatures of this planet and they deserve a healthy environment to survive.
AuthorBrinda shah is a freelance content writer. she is a ca turned into a writer who loves to read, write & meditate. you can connect with her on linkedin and on instagram