For the first time, researchers have pinned down just how damaging plastic is to marine animals. In a new study conducted by researchers at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, they have discovered that a sea turtle that has ingested just one piece of plastic has more than a one in five chance of dying after consuming just one piece of plastic
The study was conducted by analyzing nearly 1,000 sea turtles that were found dead on beaches in Australia. What the researchers discovered was that the more plastic a turtle consumes, the great the likelihiod that it will die due to plastic. While this seems obvious, this is the first time scientists have been able to specifically say that the plastic leads to the death of turtles.
Of the 246 turtles examined, 58 contained debris. The count and mass of debris ranged from a single piece to 329 pieces, weighing between <0.01 g to 10.41 g.
“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 Dr Chris Wilcox, Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere.
The scientists found that once a turtle had 14 plastic items in its gut there was a 50% likelihood that it would cause death. However, that’s not to say that a turtle won’t die if they consume less than 14 pieces of plastic.
Sea turtles in all seven seas are impacted by the plastic and a recent study found that in 100% of turtles tested across three ocean, plastic was found in each one of them.
Currently there is an estimated 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic already estimated to be in the ocean today, that number will only grow at a rapid pace in the future. By 2050, plastic pollution is estimated to outweigh all fish in the ocean.
“The model we’ve developed can be adapted to help us understand the impact of plastic ingestion not just on individuals, but whole populations of other endangered marine species as well.” Said Wilcox.
“The better we understand the issue, the better equipped we are to address the problem, and work towards viable, scalable solutions.”