After scientists found high-density plastic in the muscles of sea turtles, they found that marine plastic pollution was effective at a chemical level. By analyzing the remains of 44 turtles found dead along the coastline in eastern Spain, the researchers found that the deaths of each were linked to the consumption of plastic. Sea turtles, also known as caretta caretta, are listed as ‘endangered’ on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The study, led by chemist Ethel Ejarrat from the Spanish National Research Council, focused on 44 caretta carettas found dead on the Catalan coast and Balearic Islands between 2014 and 2017.
Turtles, whose diets are predominantly composed of jellyfish, sardines and squid, often consume plastic bags, bottles, and floating plastic parts.
Dr. Ejarrat stated that turtles on the Balearic islands have higher levels of plastic in their bodies. He also said that turtles living off the coast of Algeria have a higher presence of plastic waste than turtles on the Catalan coast.
However, the research showed that plastic waste did not only affect carette carettas at the physical level. When turtles get stuck in waste or when plastics fall into their digestive system, it also affects them at a chemical level, causing them to become poisoned.
Within the scope of the study published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution, the team analyzed 19 additives used in plastics, which are neurotoxic and even carcinogenic, known to disrupt the hormone-regulating endocrine system. The substances in question are used to prevent flammability in plastics. Analyzes revealed the presence of plastics in concentrations ranging from 6 to 100 nanograms per gram of muscle in all turtles.
Luis Cardona, a biologist at the University of Barcelona, said, “Turtles eat plastic waste while mixing them with real food, such as jellyfish. Caretta carettas are one of the animal groups most affected by plastic pollution in the sea, but we do not yet fully understand the real impact of this.
Doctor Ejarrat also said that the plastic compounds they detected could affect the turtle’s fertility and were linked to cancer cases in marine reptiles.
On the other hand, scientists stated that caretta carettas are more sensitive to chemical additives associated with plastics than other marine creatures. Turtles take more plastic into their bodies than whales or dolphins. For example, whales take only microplastics because they filter water, but the pollutant levels in microplastics are lower than macroplastics that turtles get.
Ejarrat also warned that if turtles suffer from these effects, humans could also be exposed to:
“We incorporate these compounds into our diet through fish so we absorb it. Humanity will be affected sooner or later.”