Science.-Plastic sets an ‘evolutionary trap’ for baby turtles

02-08-2021 Baby loggerhead turtles. New research led by the University of Exeter shows that plastic pollution creates an ‘evolutionary trap’ for baby sea turtles. PIXNIO Research and Technology Policy

Madrid 2 (European Press)

New research led by the University of Exeter shows that plastic pollution creates an ‘evolutionary trap’ for baby sea turtles.

The study found plastic inside baby turtles along the eastern (Pacific Ocean) and western (Indian Ocean) coasts of Australia.

After being born on beaches, sea turtles travel in currents and spend their early years in the open ocean. But these currents are now accumulating large amounts of plastic, feeding near the surface, and being ingested by many small turtles.

“Baby turtles have evolved to live in the open ocean, where predators are relatively rare,” Dr Emily Duncan, from the Center for Ecology and Conservation at the Exeter Penryn campus in Cornwall, said in a statement.

However, our results indicate that this evolving behavior is now driving them into a ‘trap’, driving them into highly polluted areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“Juvenile sea turtles generally don’t follow a specialized diet, they eat just about anything, and our study suggests that this includes plastic. We don’t yet know the effect of plastic ingestion on young turtles, but there are any losses in these early life stages that could have an effect.” significant at population levels.

The researchers examined baby sea turtles (from their hatchlings to shells up to 50 cm in height) that had been washed or caught by fishermen off Australian beaches. In all, the study included 121 sea turtles from five of the world’s seven species: green, loggerhead, hawksbill, olive ridley and flat-back.

The proportion of turtles containing plastic was significantly higher on the Pacific Coast: 86% of loggerhead turtles, 83% of green turtles, 80% of flat turtles, and 29% of Kemp’s ridley turtles.

On the Indian Ocean coast, 28% of flatback turtles, 21% of loggerhead turtles, and 9% of green turtles contained plastic.

No plastic was found in hawksbill turtles on either coast, but only seven hawksbill turtles were found, so the sample size was small.

The plastic in Pacific turtles was solid fragments that could have come from a wide variety of products used by humans, while the plastic from the Indian Ocean was mostly fibres, possibly from ropes or fishing nets.

The most common polymers that turtles took in both oceans were polyethylene and polypropylene. “These polymers are so widely used in plastic products that it is impossible to determine the potential sources of the fragments we find,” said Dr. Duncan.

He added, “Chicks generally contain fragments of about 5 mm to 10 mm in length, and the particle size increases along with the size of the turtle.”

The article was published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

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