No Blue, No Green: A story of the sea turtle in our present day oceans
Every day, our world’s plastic addiction becomes painfully clearer. With at least 8 million tons of plastic dumped into the oceans each year, we are shoveling a big ol’ truckful of plastic into our precious waters each minute of every day. In the Los Angeles area alone, 10 metric tons of plastic fragments are carried into the Pacific Ocean every single day, and the effect our plastic waste has on our environment and fellow Earth dwellers has become an international predicament.
Plastic isn’t just in the obvious places like cheap toys and disposable cups. We’ve even discovered recent research findings that salt and honey contain microplastics. Our plastic addiction has come full circle and has begun to affect even our own bodies alongside the multitudes of marine animals that are also affected.
As You Sow has already made a lot of progress in reducing plastic in our oceans through corporate recyclability commitments and improved corporate recycling systems, which will help protect our beloved sea turtles. In 2018 alone, we’ve successfully moved McDonald’s to eliminate foam packaging in their supply chains by 2019 (Dunkin’ Donuts followed suit shortly after) in a a critical advance for ocean health. However, there is still much work to do, especially with the recent finding of the concentration of microplastics in the Arctic.
It’s glaringly obvious that we have a very serious plastic problem, and we need to do something about it fast or else we may face even graver consequences none of us were expecting.
That is why starting this April, Earth Month, we bring you a series of blog posts dedicated to illuminating the grave effect our plastic addiction has on beloved marine life species.
For our first deep dive (no pun intended), we bring you the life of the sea turtle in today’s oceans.
As one of the most unique creatures on planet Earth, sea turtles have lived on Earth for more than 220 million years. They’ve managed to survive many dramatic changes in weather, including that which killed the dinosaurs. Each year certain species of turtle travel upwards of 10,000 miles, crossing the entirety of the Pacific Ocean and “migrating between foraging and nesting grounds, and seasonally to warmer waters” in order to survive.
Habitat destruction and accidental capture in fishing gear as well as temperature have an effect on populations. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s fact page, “human activities have tipped the scales against the survival of these ancient mariners. Nearly all species of sea turtle are classified as Endangered. Slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells, sea turtles suffer from poaching and over-exploitation.” Sea turtles survived the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs without breaking a sweat, but are struggling now.
Only adding to their peril, sea turtles are particularly prone to ingesting plastic. More than 50% of sea turtles are ingesting plastic at unprecedented rates, a 2013 study found. Because plastic bags bear a strikingly similar resemblance to jellyfish, a major food source for turtles, turtles often confuse these floating plastics for their prey. Some species of turtle are ingesting twice as much plastic as they did 25 years ago.
Scientists have begun to explore where, in fact, the sea turtles are consuming the most plastic. What they found really surprised us:
Research revealed that “young, ocean-going turtles were more likely to eat plastic than their older, coastal-dwelling relatives,” explains lead marine debris researcher Qamar Schuyler. Further, data shows that marine sea turtles, especially leatherback sea turtles, are at the highest risk of getting killed or harmed by plastic marine litter. This means that while the ever-popular coastal cleanup could begin to minimize the amount of plastic in our oceans, 80% of marine debris comes from land and drifts far into the ocean. Many turtles found close to highly populated coastal areas don’t actually contain much plastic in their systems. Even sea turtles living near underdeveloped areas have ingested debris.
It is clear the sea turtle species needs a more robust solution, as well as a whole lot of our love and the will to cure our plastic addiction. We, as an international, global society, need to greatly prioritize ocean conservation before our situation gets out of hand, especially with the recent evidence of plastic contamination in our own human bodies coming to the surface.
We need more work done to reverse the influx of plastic in our oceans. We need more work like foam elimination from the waste stream, increased recyclable packaging for big corporations like Target and Kroger, and more countries pledging to put an end to their plastic addictions.
Unlike the mighty land tortoise’s motto, slow and steady does not win the race here. We need to find solutions that work now.
As marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle stated, “No water, no life. No blue, no green.”