Why Are Plastics So Harmful To Turtles?

source: Swedbrand Group

It’s no secret that plastic is one of the most harmful materials to threaten marine life, more specifically turtles. But have you ever wondered why that is? According to science-focused online publication, Science Focus (SF), the answer lies in the sea turtle’s keen sense of smell which was highlighted in a study done by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Members of the university conducted research that centred around the smell that plastic materials, which have been in the ocean for long periods of time, emit to marine animals. SF cited the study explaining how the researchers “found that the coating of algae and microbes that naturally builds up on ocean plastics causes the rubbish to give off the aroma of food.”

Dr. Kenneth Lohmann (center). source: Penn State CHANCE

Dr Kenneth J Lohmann who participated in the study stated how “this finding is important because it’s the first demonstration that the odour of ocean plastics causes animals to eat them,” and added that “It’s common to find loggerhead turtles with their digestive systems fully or partially blocked because they’ve eaten plastic materials. There also are increasing reports of sea turtles that have become ill and stranded on the beach due to their ingestion of plastic.”

Additionally, many researchers believe that ocean areas which are densely polluted with plastic may trick marine animals such as turtles into mistaking them for an abundant food source thus believing said plastic to be jellyfish which is a common meal amongst various sea creatures.

Algae-coated plastic. source: Nature’s Path

The most unfortunate part of this entire situation as stated by Lohmann is the fact that currently there is no proper way to rid the ocean of these plastics entirely nor prevent them from emitting a food-smelling aroma to any sea creatures that pass them by. He also explained that “the best thing we can do is to keep plastic from getting into the ocean at all”. Now do you get why we’re mainly using paper straws?

It’s to save these little critters! source: The Pegasus Foundation

While you’re at it, check out Science Focus’ article for a more in-depth read on this major problem threatening our oceans.

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