SYDNEY – A sea turtle has a 22 percent chance of dying if it eats just one piece of plastic, an Australian scientific institution revealed on Friday, quantifying for the first time the risk that plastic pollution poses to sea turtle populations.
Scientists found that there was a 50 percent likelihood that a sea turtle would die if it had 14 plastic items in its gut, according to a statement from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).
However, “even a single piece of plastic can kill a turtle,” said Dr. Kathy Townsend, of the University of the Sunshine Coast, who participated in the analysis of nearly 1,000 turtles found dead and washed up on beaches around Australia.
“Some of the turtles we studied had eaten only one piece of plastic, which was enough to kill it. In one case, the gut was punctured, and in the other, the soft plastic clogged the gut,” Townsend said.
Prior to this study, it was unclear if the plastics in the oceans killed sea turtles or if they simply ingested them without major harm.
“We knew that turtles were consuming a lot of plastic, but we didn’t know for certain whether that plastic actually caused the turtles’ deaths, or whether the turtles just happened to have plastic in them when they died,” said the Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Dr. Chris Wilcox, lead-researcher from the CSIRO.
Sea turtles are among the first animals recorded to consume plastic debris, a phenomenon that occurs worldwide in all seven species of marine turtles.
Globally, it is estimated that 52 percent of sea turtles have eaten plastic.
“Millions of tons of plastic debris are entering our world’s oceans on a yearly basis,” said Wilcox, explaining that the model developed by the researchers will help humans understand the impact of plastic ingestion on sea turtle populations and other endangered marine species.
According to the United Nations, eight million tons of plastic waste ended up in the oceans each year.
The UN suggested that if this trend continues, there will likely be more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050, as seabed pollution is already present in every region worldwide.