More than 100 sea turtles from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the Mediterranean Sea were examined and microplastics were found in their stomachs. Eating just fourteen pieces increases your risk of death.
"The ingestion of plastics is not the greatest threat to the species, but its presence in each of the turtles is worrying"said Mark Hamman of James Cook University (JCU), a member of a study recently published in the journal Global Change Biology that was led by the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK, in collaboration with Greenpeace.
The scientists found about 800 synthetic particles in the 102 turtles tested, but their number could be 20 times higher since they only analyzed part of the stomach of these animals, according to a statement from the JCU.
All over the world, sea turtles are ingesting plastic debris floating in the ocean, mistaking it for appetizing jellyfish or simply unable to navigate the debris around them.
Young tortoises are more vulnerable because they navigate currents in which floating debris also accumulate and because they are less selective than adult ones in what they eat.
"You cannot say that a turtle died from plastic just because there is plastic in its body, except in extenuating circumstances," said Britta Denise Hardesty, lead author of another study conducted in September in Australia. Even a single piece of plastic can sometimes kill you. In one case, a turtle was found with its digestive tract blocked by a piece of soft plastic; in another, his intestine was pierced by a pointed piece of plastic.
Because of their anatomy, sea turtles can't vomit anything once they've swallowed it, Hardesty said, which means anything they eat either passes through their intestines or gets stuck.
An animal that swallows large amounts of plastic may appear healthy, but it could be weakened since the plastic in the intestines would be limiting the absorption of nutrients.
Microplastics come from the breakage of large pieces -such as bags or bottles- or from exfoliating creams, gels, toothpaste and detergents, or from the fibers of clothing, tires, cigarette filters, fishing nets and that are so small that cannot be removed by water treatment.
“Their tiny size means that they enter the stomach without causing a blockage, as with large pieces "explained study leader Emily Duncan of the University of Exeter, who pointed to a possible more subtle effect of microplastics.
"They may carry contaminants, bacteria or viruses, or they may affect the turtle at the cellular or subcellular level," added the biologist.
Experts still do not know how these synthetic particles enter the turtles, although they consider contamination of seawater and sediments, or through the ingestion of prey or plants, as probable routes.
What to do?
According to the UN, every year they are dumped into the oceans eight million tons of plastic, which threatens marine and human life and destroys natural ecosystems.
Reducing turtle exposure to plastic is possible with various initiatives, ranging from incentives to bans on items that have high impact and are frequently thrown away.
"Everything that ends up in the ocean was in the hands of someone at some point," he concluded.
With information from: