In tests conducted in more than 100 sea turtles, microplastics were discovered in the guts of each of the sea turtle casting a new light on the impact plastic has in the oceans across the globe. In the new study, conducted by the researchers of Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the University of Exeter, the researchers searched for fragments of synthetic particulates spanning three oceans- the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific- and found microplastics in 102 sea turtles of seven species.
The researchers discovered over 800 synthetic particulates in the sea turtles and had warned that the actual particulate matter is likely 20 times more because they tested just an area of the gut of each turtle. The effect of the particulates has on the turtles is still not know, noted Emily Duncan from the University of Exeter and lead author of the study.
The small size of the particle implies that these can pass on from the gut with not much of blockage than compared to bigger sized plastic particles. Besides, it is also not known currently how the sea turtles ingest the plastic particulates. However, she added that future study must concentrate on determining whether microplastic can affect the marine organisms or not.
For instance, it is quite possible that the microplastic fragments may carry viruses, contaminants, or even bacteria or might have cellular or sub-cellular on the turtle. However, this fact needs a further probe. The researchers used necropsies, a form of animal autopsies on the sea turtles which died by either accidentally getting trapped by fishermen or by stranding.
The synthetic particulates were discovered in all turtles, with the most common source of such materials being cigarettes, tyres, clothing, fishing nets, ropes etc. The study offers further evidence that all humans should work towards reducing excessive plastic waste which is released in the oceans and should maintain healthy and clean oceans for the generations to come, said senior scientist, Pennie Lindeque from the Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
As per David Santillo from the University of Exeter, the threats turtles have from being strangled in the fishnets as well as choking due to largely sized plastic prices is a known fact. However, the turtles researched in the study had microplastic fragments in their body which reveals that there is a whole new scenario to issues related to plastic pollution.
Senior author of the study, Brendan Godley said that the research team is continually researching on the young sea turtles found in the Pacific Ocean and are checking the effects chemical pollutants have on the turtles. Godley further said that a major possible hidden threat plastic poses on aquatic animals is the spread of other kinds of chemical toxins.
The Mediterranean is known to have the highest level of contamination than compared to Pacific or Atlantic; however, the researchers did note that the sample size in the study, as well as the methods used, did not allow them to carry out a detailed study on geographical comparisons. Each year, approximately 4.8 million to 12.7 million ton of global plastic waste enters the seas and oceans of the world.
This is a major contributing factor to nearly 5 trillion plastic pieces in the surface waters, says the study. Dilyana Mihaylova, from the Fauna & Flora International, said that the study findings are not something surprising. The level of plastic pollution in seas and oceans is widespread. So, when marine animals consume such particles, they may suffer from serious harm as a result of the chemicals these pollutants release, noted Mihaylova, who wasn’t involved in the research.
It is important to determine the sources from where such plastic particulates are coming to a stop them from entering in the oceans. The study, titled ‘Microplastic ingestion ubiquitous in marine turtles,’ appears in the Global Change Biology journal.