How ocean plastic threatens sea turtles

How ocean plastic threatens sea turtles


Plastic pollution harms many ocean animals,
but it can be especially dangerous for sea turtles. Leaving the water can help them avoid plastic
in the oceans, but debris on the beaches can cause even bigger problems. Ocean plastic threatens all seven species
of sea turtle. Turtles that get tangled in fishing nets are
at risk of drowning or starvation. When turtles eat plastic, they can suffer
internal injuries — and they can get stuck floating near the surface, since most plastics
are lighter than water. Scientists call it “floater syndrome”: Turtles
struggle to dive to feed on sea grass, or to escape predators or avoid boats. The risks are more subtle on land, but scientists
worry they could be even more significant. A recent study of Florida beaches found lots
of tiny plastic pieces have washed into the dunes where loggerhead sea turtles make their
nests. When this plastic warms up, it retains its
heat for a long time. Nests can become noticeably warmer. For sea turtles, that’s a big deal. Nest temperatures play a large role in determining
the sex of newborn turtles — so the warm plastic might eventually cause big changes
in local turtle populations. The good news is anything we can do to cut
down ocean plastic — on a large or small scale — helps the sea turtles. There are UN campaigns to stop plastic from
entering oceans in the first place, and there are local groups that comb the beaches where
turtles nest. Some groups, like the nonprofit Ocean Cleanup,
want to comb the ocean itself: It plans to start filtering tons of trash out of the Pacific
garbage patch sometime in 2018.

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