A group of critically endangered hawksbill baby turtles were rescued after becoming entangled in plastic in Roatán, Honduras. Photographer Caroline Power, who lives in Roatán, says plastic in the ocean is having a devastating effect on the environment.
Power says that the trash patches that have formed in Roatán are tiny compared to the ones in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. “There are so many factors that have to be just right for them to form – it tends to happen after large rains in Central America,” she says. “Plastic bags, bottles, and heavier plastics sink just below the surface.”
Power adds that large amounts of trash in Roatán come from the Motagua River and other rivers in Guatemala and Honduras, though she believes the problem is global given our dependence on plastic.
"Young small turtles actually drift and float with the ocean currents as does much of the buoyant, small lightweight plastic," Dr Britta Denise Hardesty from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), told BBC News. "We think that small turtles are less selective in what they eat than large adults who eat sea grass and crustaceans, the young turtles are out in the oceanic area offshore and the older animals are feeding in closer to shore."
A new study shows that even a single piece of plastic can be lethal for sea turtles. Researchers have found there is a one in five chance of death for a turtle who has ingested a single piece of plastic, and that number increases to 50% for 14 pieces. Younger turtles are at a higher risk of death than adults, which could affect the long term survival of many sea turtle species.
The study estimates that nearly half of all sea turtles in the world have swallowed plastic, while off the coast of Brazil, 90% of juvenile green sea turtles have ingested plastic. The researchers reviewed post mortem reports and animal stranding records for sea turtles in Queensland to determine the effects of plastic on the species.
"Because of their digestive tract, they don't regurgitate anything," Hardesty said. "If it ends up in the wrong place, even one little thin, filmy piece of plastic can block that canal and mean that nothing can pass and ultimately the blockage can result in death."
The study also found that younger turtles are ingesting more plastic than adults. Nearly 23% of juveniles and 54% of post-hatchling turtles had consumed plastic compared to 16% of adults. Although sea turtles can live to 80 and reproduce for several decades, the effects of plastic could halt their development. "We know that disproportionately finding it more in younger animals who won't make it to the reproductive state will have long term consequences for the survival of the species," Hardesty said. "It's very concerning."
Recently, a loggerhead turtle was found dead on a beach on the Cilento peninsula in the southern region of Campania in Italy. When marine biologists performed an autopsy, they found dozens of pieces of plastic inside its stomach, including fragments of a plastic cup, an M&M wrapper and six plastic filters, as well as packaging with an Algerian bar code.
The adult male turtle, which was of breeding age, weighed 220 pounds and was found near a coastal village called Marina di Camerota. The loggerhead is the most commobn turtle species in the Mediterranean and is also considered to be endangered. Loggerheads eat crabs, mollusks and jellyfish and reproduce every two to four years.
“This is just the latest case, sadly, that should raise the alarm. We need to reduce our consumption of plastic and change our behaviour as consumers,” said marine biologist Sandra Hochscheid. “People should avoid buying single-use plastic items like straws, cups and plates and when they are in bars and cafes, ask for a real glass rather than accept a plastic cup.”