It's one thing to say sea turtles are dying because of plastic in the ocean; it's another thing to show it.
That's what researchers from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization were determined to do. They wanted to hammer home how much of an impact plastic really is having on these endangered creatures.
It turns out the risk of death by plastic for sea turtles is even worse than previously thought.
According to USA Today, CSIRO studied 1,000 sea turtles that washed up dead on Australian beaches. They wanted to see how plastic affected them.
"We knew 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," CSIRO scientist Chris Wilcox said, per USA Today.
They soon found out the plastic played a direct role.
According to the BBC, the scientists found that 200 swallowed pieces of plastic ensured the turtle's death. But even ingesting much, much less could kill them.
Sea turtles who ate at least 14 pieces of plastic saw their mortality rate rise by 50 percent.
The stat to note, though, is that even just a single piece of plastic could kill a sea turtle.
Yes, just one.
USA Today reported that sea turtles could easily die from one piece of plastic if it was hard or sharp enough to puncture an organ or soft enough to clog their digestive tracts ...
You know, like a plastic bag might.
BBC reported that sea turtles are unable to throw up foreign objects, which is why they are at risk even from just one accidental plastic item intake.
Sadly baby turtles are even more exposed to these threats.
According to the BBC, young sea turtles are carried around with ocean currents — and so is lightweight, dangerous plastic. It puts them into contact with the harmful substances more than adult turtles, and it's leading to a higher plastic intake at an earlier age.
The research found that 54 percent of newly hatched turtles and 23 percent of juvenile turtles had eaten plastic. Meanwhile, only 16 percent of adult sea turtles had.
That's disheartening, because killing the offspring of a species can lead to extinction if they're not growing old enough to reproduce.
But as saddening as these statistics are, it's actually vital that researchers find them out. It's often not enough for policy-makers to just hear that people are worried about the threat of plastic.
Showing cold, hard facts makes it more impossible to ignore that there's a very real problem facing our ocean.
CSIRO also noted on their website that the research model they used to study the sea turtles can be modified to study the impact of plastic on other marine species. That way valuable data can be collected about whales, seabirds and more animals threatened by plastic ingestion.
The more proof we have, the more someone is going to actually have to do something.