Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Dr Chris Wilcox talks with Dave about how much plastic will kill a turtle

The risk that plastic pollution poses to the world’s declining sea turtle populations has been quantified for the first time.

Analysis of nearly 1000 turtles found dead and washed up on beaches around Australia showed that the more plastic a turtle consumes the greater the likelihood that it was killed by that plastic.

Previously, it was unclear as to whether the plastic in our oceans is actually killing sea turtles, or whether they are simply ingesting it without significant harm.
“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,”  Principal Research Scientist with CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Dr Chris Wilcox said.

“In other words, we wanted to know ‘How much plastic is too much plastic?’ for sea turtles.”

ultra106.5fm is proudly supported by:

The scientists found that once a turtle had 14 plastic items in its gut there was a 50 per cent 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.

“Even a single piece of plastic can kill a turtle,” Lecturer in Animal Ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast Dr Kathy Townsend said.

“Some of the turtles we studied had eaten only one piece of plastic, which was enough to kill it. In one case, the gut was punctured, and in the other, the soft plastic clogged the gut.”

The research showed that a turtle had a 22 per cent chance of dying if it eats just one piece of plastic.

Sea turtles were among the first animals recorded to be ingesting plastic debris, a phenomenon that occurs in every region of the world and in all seven marine turtle species.