Green sea turtles eating more plastic than ever

August 9, 2013
A Green sea turtle at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Florida, on January 8, 2010. The species is swallowing more potentially deadly plastic than ever before, researchers say.

Endangered green turtles are ingesting more man-made debris, including potentially lethal plastic products, than ever before, a new Australian study has shown.

The majestic turtles are significantly more likely to swallow plastic than they were in the 1980s, the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, showed.

The research reviewed scientific literature on the of man-made rubbish in the ocean by sea turtles published since 1985.

It showed that six of the world's seven species of sea turtles have been found to ingest debris, and all six are listed as globally vulnerable or endangered.

"We found that for green sea turtles, the likelihood that a sea turtle has ingested debris has nearly doubled in the last 25 years," Qamar Schuyler from the University of Queensland, who led the study, told AFP on Friday.

"Specifically for , it does appear that they are eating a lot more debris than they used to."

The study found that the likelihood of a green turtle, which can grow to 1.5 metres (five feet) and live for 80 years, ingesting debris jumped from about 30 percent in 1985 to nearly 50 percent in 2012.

The research said it was clear that since the first data was recorded more than 100 years ago, the amount of refuse had ingested had also increased.

Green baby turtles in a container during a turtle release program in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on June 13, 2013. Six of the world's seven species of sea turtle eat rubbish—and all six are endangered.

However, between 1985 and 2012 their intake had been stable.

Plastic products eaten by turtles and other marine life can be lethal, killing the animals by either blocking their stomachs and starving them or through puncturing their intestinal system.

Schuyler said ingested plastics could also be releasing toxins into the animals, either via chemicals in the plastics themselves or which the products have absorbed as they have floated around the ocean.

"The animal may not die of that right away but it may impact things like their and that has longer-term consequences," she said.

Schuyler, a doctoral candidate, said the data showed that turtles washing up with lots of plastic in them were not necessarily found in the most polluted or populated places.

"So it means that they are ingesting that debris usually somewhere farther away from where they end up," she said, adding that this suggested that a global response was needed to counter the problem.

"What we really need to look at is a large scale movement to stop debris entering the oceans."

The research, analysing 37 studies published from 1985 to 2012 which reported on data collected from before 1900 through to 2011, found that in nearly all regions ingested debris, most commonly plastic.

"Our results show clearly that debris ingestion by is a global phenomenon of increasing magnitude," the study said.

Explore further: Flood-ravaged turtles released in Moreton Bay

Related Stories

Flood-ravaged turtles released in Moreton Bay

December 1, 2011

( -- A University of Queensland biological researcher has led the Moreton Bay release of four turtles that suffered starvation and illness from the January floods.

Mexico releases 100,000 endangered sea turtles

January 31, 2013

A Mexican conservation group released more than 100,000 sea turtles into the ocean last year, in an effort to save a species threatened by egg poachers and fishing nets.

Turtles watch for, snack on gelatinous prey while swimming

June 12, 2013

Loggerhead turtles use visual cues to find gelatinous prey to snack on as they swim in open waters, according to research published June 12 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Tomoko Narazaki and colleagues from the University ...

Plastic for dinner? Big fish eat more than you expect

July 24, 2013

Large, predatory fishes from the offshore waters around Hawai'i have been ingesting a surprisingly large amount of plastic and other marine debris, according to new research by scientists at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa. ...

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

A huge chunk of a tardigrade's genome comes from foreign DNA

November 23, 2015

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have sequenced the genome of the nearly indestructible tardigrade, the only animal known to survive the extreme environment of outer space, and found something ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2013
Not to worry, I'm sure they'll either evolve to eat plastic or they will be naturally deselected. Why should we worry about litter in the ocean? Considering how we line our roads with garbage, why should the ocean expect different treatment?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.