Unless you’ve been living under a soda bottle for the past couple of years, you’ll no doubt be aware that plastic pollution has become a worrying scourge on our planet’s oceans.
In the latest grim illustration of this problem, a sea turtle has been rescued after being found with a belly full of plastic. While the turtle is now on the mend, vets say it spent the past month pooping out over 13 grams (0.5 ounces) of nylon bags, netting, and an assortment of other plastic trash.
The green turtle was caught in a fishers' net off the coast of the Argentine capital Buenos Aires on December 29, 2019. After being passed onto experts at Mundo Marino Foundation, an Argentina-based conservation group, it was revealed that the turtle had a worrying amount of plastics stuck in its digestive tract.
“Through radiographic images, we could see foreign bodies inside. Therefore, we started a treatment with a medication that increases peristaltic movements (movements of the digestive tract) and allows it to excrete what we saw in the images," Ignacio Peña, a veterinarian at the Foundation, said in a statement.
“Today the turtle is eating green leaves, mainly lettuce and seaweed. We're viewing this with an optimistic attitude, the progress is favorable," he added.
Mundo Marino Foundation says this isn’t the first turtle they have come across in this sorry state, either. Already this year, two other turtles of the same species have been found with plastic in their digestive tracts. One was found dead with plastic in its stomach, while the other was taken into care, where it defecated a fragment of plastic bag.
Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. The sea-faring species faces many threats, most notably the degradation of their habitat through coastal development, and they are especially susceptible to the dangers of plastic pollution.
Most mature sea turtles are strictly herbivorous, however, juveniles often eat a carnivorous or omnivorous diet. For a young and inexperienced hunter, a floating plastic bag can be easily mistaken for a jellyfish, one of their favorite foods, and can easily be digested. A study in 2018 found that a turtle had a 22 percent chance of dying if it eats just one piece of plastic. If it eats 14 pieces of plastic, that risk of death rises to 50 percent.
“There is not only a risk of a mechanical obstruction due to plastic intake. The accumulation of non-nutritive elements in the digestive systems of these marine reptiles can cause them a false sense of being full, which gradually weakens them,” added Karina Álvarez, biologist and Conservation Manager at the Mundo Marino Foundation.
“In addition, a large amount of gas could be generated in their organisms, product of the accumulated plastic. Which would affect their ability to dive and dive, both to feed and to find more suitable temperatures.”