09 June 2011

Balloons and soft plastic kill sea turtles, slowly and painfully

Balloons, plastic bags, nylon rope, styrofoam are swallowed by sea turtles which mistake these for jellyfish, according to a recently released study by the Earthwatch Turtles in Trouble program.
Exploded balloon floating in seagrass
An exploded ballon looks very much like a jellyfish!
This was seen at Cyrene Reef.
The report provides more evidence that sea turtles are selectively preferring to eat soft plastics over other types of rubbish.

Earthwatch researcher Dr Kathy Townsend dissected and examined the guts of more than 120 dead turtles from the eastern areas of Moreton Bay in Queensland. She says soft plastic items were found more often than hard plastic, and 30% of the dead turtles she examined had ingested rubbish.

"We went out and looked at what we were finding in the guts of the turtle and then compared that to what we were finding on the beaches in which the turtles had washed up," she said. "Surprisingly what we ended up finding is that the turtles seem to be selecting or targeting soft plastics with the idea that perhaps these animals are targeting that because they look like jellyfish."
Marine litter removed from the intestines
of a sea turtle, from the Earthwatch website.

The Turtles in Trouble Facebook page reported a 14-cm tiny baby turtle with over 100 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

How does swallowing soft plastic kill a sea turtle?
from media articles on the Turtles in Trouble report

Sea turtles, because of their anatomy, cannot vomit out the plastic.

If the plastic does not come out the other end of the sea turtle, it blocks up the digestive system.

The food inside the sea turtle then starts to rot, releasing gases which causes the sea turtle float. The result is called "floating syndrome".

The sea turtle then can't dive to eat, or to escape from predators, or get away from fast moving boats.

The sea turtle also becomes dehydrated.

Even if it doesn't fall prey to predators, or get struck by boats, the sea turtle eventually dies very slowly, over months, from thirst and starvation. "It's a really long, drawn-out, painful death," Dr Townsend said.

The research found that another 6% of turtles had died after becoming entangled in rubbish.

Please don't organise mass balloon releases!
From Ivan's Lazy Lizard Tales blog about a balloon release at Sentosa.

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