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News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Helping Sea Turtles Never See Marine Debris

Posted On March 19, 2014 by

Let’s face it, sea turtles could use a helping hand.. Did you know that most species of sea turtles are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)? Marine debris is a major threat to sea turtle’s survival. Mistaking trash for food, sea turtles are known to eat plastics and other buoyant debris. Trash can also hinder sea turtles ability to swim, and they’re prone to getting entangled in abandoned lines and netting.[1]

Young sea turtles are especially vulnerable to marine debris. The turtle hatchlings quickly drift in the open sea where they mistake lines of floating debris for seaweed.[2]

Unfortunately, cleaning up debris throughout the entire ocean is an impractical task—there’s just too much of it! But, don’t despair; we have had success removing ocean debris on our beaches, where the sea turtles hatch from their eggs before crawling across the sand to the sea.

I’m sure you’ve seen trash on the beach. It’s not only unpleasant to the eye, but this waste poses a threat to sea turtles in their nesting habitats. Once a sea turtle hatches from its egg, it needs to reach the ocean as quick as possible—tiny sea turtles look like tasty treats to hungry predators!

In addition to trying to avoid predators, sea turtles also have to avoid the obstacle of marine debris – dodging plastic bags and crawling around bottle caps. If snagged, debris on the beach can entangle or trap emerging hatchlings, preventing them from ever reaching the sea.[3]Adult female turtles can also become trapped by beach debris during their attempts to lay a nest, which increases the difficulty of the already arduous nesting process.[4]

A ray of hope for sea turtles—citizen science has emerged as a vital way to protect our environment and ocean. Volunteers, also known as citizen scientists, have been collecting marine debris data for 28 years as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Likewise, sea turtle volunteers perform an array of data collection services that directly aid sea turtle conservation, including beach patrols to check for signs of nesting activity, marking new nests and calculating hatch success rate.

[2] http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v463/p1-22/
[3] http://www.widecast.org/Resources/Docs/Choi_and_Eckert_2009_Safeguarding_Sea_Turtle_Nesting_Beaches.pdf
[4] http://pinnacle.allenpress.com/doi/abs/10.2744/CCB-0899.1?journalCode=ccab