Photo Perfectly Highlights How Plastics Pose a Huge Threat to Sea Turtles

February 14th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

One image posted on Reddit Monday perfectly conveys how difficult it may be for a marine animal to differentiate plastics from its natural food sources.

The photo features two bottles: one contains plastic bags (left) and the other contains jellyfish (right), which is a common meal for sea turtles. Half of the sea turtles in the world have consumed plastic, according to a 2015 study published in the Global Change Biology journal.

Plastics — many of which are not biodegradable — have proliferated in oceans over the last 30 years, endangering marine life who mistake the material for food. Sea turtles aren't the only ones suffering, either. About 90 percent of seabirds have eaten plastics, according to a 2015 study, and researchers have also attributed plastic consumption to the deaths of whales in recent years.


"We now know that both sea turtles and seabirds are experiencing very high levels of debris ingestion, and that the issue is growing," Dr. Chris Wilcox, an Australian researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, said in a press release. "It is only a matter of time before we see the same problems in other species, and even in the fish we eat."

There are several ways plastic consumption can harm marine life, such as sea turtles.

The plastics can directly kill sea turtles by causing blockages in the intestines, rendering them unable to process food, or it can puncture their organs and cause internal bleeding.

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Indirectly, plastics contain toxins that can build up and make marine animals ill. In animals lower on the food chain, that toxicity can be passed along to their predators — and eventually reach humans who enjoy seafood, NPR reported. It's not always plastic bags that cause the toxicity, the so-called "micro plastics" that have degraded in the ocean over decades also pose a threat.

"Currently, plastics are being produced at an exponentially increasing rate — but globally, our waste disposal technology and capacity is not increasing at the same rate," Qamar Schuyler, the lead author of the sea turtle study, told The Washington Post. "Plus we now know that unseen micro plastics are entering the oceans from our cosmetics, from the clothing we wear, and from fragmentation of larger plastic particles."

He went on to add: "Unless we take substantial action, the problem is bound to increase."