DEC 05, 2018 05:48 PM PST

All Known Sea Turtle Species Have Ingested Microplastics

The world’s oceans are undergoing a pollution crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen before, and the unsuspecting victims of said crisis are the various forms of innocent wildlife that inhabit them.

While researchers have observed microplastics and plastic fibers in a bevy of different marine-centric species that call the Earth’s many oceans their home, new research published this week in the journal Global Change Biology highlights how sea turtles are perhaps the hardest-hit of them all.

A sea turtle, which probably has microplastics in its gut.

Image Credit: Pixabay

A team of researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, in collaboration with the Greenpeace Research Laboratories, analyzed the gut contents of 102 deceased sea turtles from all seven known species groups from three of the world’s oceans. Alarmingly, every one of those examined was found to have microplastics hiding away in its gut.

The types of microplastics found in the turtles’ guts varied from one to the next, but one thing they all had in common was the presence of synthetic particles, such as what make up the fibers of cigarette filters, clothing, rope, tires, and fishing nets, among other things.

"The effect of these particles on turtles is unknown," explained Dr. Emily Duncan, the study’s lead author. "Their small size means they can pass through the gut without causing a blockage, as is frequently reported with larger plastic fragments."

"However, future work should focus on whether microplastics may be affecting aquatic organisms more subtly," Dr. Duncan added. "For example, they may possibly carry contaminants, bacteria or viruses, or they may affect the turtle at a cellular or subcellular level. This requires further investigation."

Related: Study finds all sorts of garbage in seagulls' stomachs

As it would seem, the researchers found more than 800 synthetic particles in their relatively small sample set, but the necropsies only analyzed certain parts of the sea turtles’ guts. Given how much of the gut the researchers didn't investigate, they estimate that the synthetic particle presence could be up to 20 times higher than meets the eye.

As for how all this microplastic gets into the guts of all these sea turtles, many wild animals mistake bits of plastic for food when they happen upon it because it retains oceanic odors reminiscent of fish. Experts also note how smaller prey can ingest microplastics, passing it on to the larger creatures in the food chain that swallow the prey whole.

The study brings attention to two significant problems: 1) that all seven of the world’s sea turtle species have seen massive exposure to microplastic ingestion, and 2) that we need to do a better job of managing ocean waste if we expect marine animal conservation efforts to work effectively.

Related: Another whale dies from swallowing plastic bags

Given just how much wildlife is being impacted by our irresponsible ocean waste management, we can only hope that someone will step up to the plate and ramp up cleanup efforts.

Source: University of Exeter, Global Change Biology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JAN 01, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 01, 2019
Recent Tsunami in Indonesia Sparks Fear for the Critically-Endangered Javan Rhino
Indonesia’s Javan Rhino is one of the most elusive rhino species in the world. With just 63-67 of the animals still alive today, the International Un...
JAN 02, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 02, 2019
Bed Bugs Are Becoming a Problem Again
    You’ve undoubtedly heard the old saying, “don’t let the bed bugs bite,” and it’s not just an old wives’ t...
JAN 07, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JAN 07, 2019
California's coastal biodiversity is under threat
The west coast of the United States is a hotspot for biodiversity. Sea otters, harbor seals, shorebirds, fish and shellfish populate California’s ico...
JAN 07, 2019
Technology
JAN 07, 2019
Software Program Decodes Rodent Chatter
Scientists have long known that rats and mice are social animals, always chatting up something new. Curious about understanding what is communicated betwee...
JAN 08, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
JAN 08, 2019
A Genetic Recipe for Monogamy
Is it natural to remain committed to a mate for life? Researchers at the University of Texas Austin have used genetics to learn more about monogamy....
JAN 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 15, 2019
Here's Why We Need to Protect Coral Reefs
Coral reefs do all sorts of great things for the environment. Not only do they act as underwater fortresses for smaller wildlife that require shelter from...
Loading Comments...