Here's What Happens To Turtles When They Swallow Too Much Plastic


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

337 Here's What Happens To Turtles When They Swallow Too Much Plastic
This green sea turtle is one of the lucky ones, so far unaffected by consuming plastic. Mohd farid/Shutterstock

Turtles that consume plastic, either directly or via contaminated prey, become too buoyant, struggling to dive to reach food. The effect, known as “floater syndrome,” is just one of the ways plastics are endangering sea turtles.

A video, below, was released to coincide with a study in PLOS ONE on the effect of human-produced debris on Queensland turtles.


Lead author Dr. Qamar Schuyler of the University of Queensland estimated last year that half the world's sea turtles have consumed plastic. The new paper explores the effects on two species in more detail.


Floater Syndrome from The University of Queensland on Vimeo.



“Types of rubbish most commonly found inside the turtles are day-to-day consumer-generated debris such as food wrappers, packaging, plastic bags, fruit stickers and balloons,” Schuyler said in a statement.

Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) proved equally susceptible to eating harmful pollutants, but their habitats made a big difference.

Benthic phase [bottom feeding] turtles had a strong selectivity for soft, clear plastic, lending support to the hypothesis that sea turtles ingest debris because it resembles natural prey items such as jellyfish,” the paper reports. “Pelagic [open ocean] turtles were much less selective in their feeding, though they showed a trend towards selectivity for rubber items such as balloons.”

The findings add to the horrifying finding that, without drastic change, there will be more plastic in the oceans by weight than fish in 2050. 


Schuyler and her coauthors called on consumers to reject plastic packaging and straws wherever possible, and for governments and industry to make efforts to prevent plastic from reaching the oceans.


Turtles in Trouble from The University of Queensland on Vimeo.



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  • ocean plastic,

  • green turtle,

  • hawksbill turtle