Over Half of the World's Sea Turtles Have Eaten Plastic and Trash

First Posted: Sep 14, 2015 03:05 PM EDT

The world's sea turtles may be in a lot more trouble than once thought. Scientists have found that more than half of the world's sea turtles have eaten plastic or other human trash.

Plastic in a turtles gut can block nutrients or can even pierce the gut wall. It can also cause other problems through the release of toxic chemicals into the animals' tissues. That's why researchers examined the threats to six marine turtle species from an estimated four million to 12 million tons of plastic that enter the ocean annually.

So what did they find? It turns out that olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) were at the highest risk, due to their feeding behavior and distribution. Olive ridley turtles commonly eat jellyfish and other floating animals. Unfortunately, floating plastic looks quite a bit like what the turtles normally eat.

In the end, the researchers found that about 52 percent of turtles worldwide have eaten debris. This is important to note when determining what sort of conservation efforts should be undertaken.

"Australia and North America are lucky to host a number of turtle species, but we also therefore have a responsibility to look after our endangered wildlife," said Qamar Schuyler, one of the researchers, in a news release. "One way to do that is to reduce the amount of debris entering the oceans via our rivers and coastlines."

The findings reveal that it's time to clean up the world's oceans. If this pollution continues, it's likely that sea turtles and other marine species may be put at major risk.

The findings are published in the journal Global Change Biology.

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