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This One Photo Explains Why So Many Sea Turtles Die From Eating Plastic

It's a tragic case of mistaken identity.

Ocean plastic pollution affects all kinds of creatures, but sea turtles are especially vulnerable.

Not only can they get entangled in fishing gear and balloon strings and end up with straws up their noses, but they can also accidentally ingest plastic.

Eating plastic is very dangerous for sea turtles (and many ocean animals).

sea turtles plastic


According to the Washington Post, a study conducted by the University of Queensland found that 52 percent of sea turtles have likely eaten plastic. Study author Qamar Schuyler said these accidental meals can wreak havoc on the insides of a turtle.

"Turtles can be killed directly by ingesting plastics, through blockage of the intestines or through piercing of the intestinal wall," Schuyler said, per the Washington Post. She added that toxins in the bag — either from the production process or that it gathers in the water — can poison a turtle.

Sea turtles can also starve to death, thinking they're full when really they're just full of plastic.

Schuyler's study found that olive ridley turtles were particularly vulnerable to plastic ingestion because they eat in the open ocean.

That's where large swaths of plastic are known to gather.

A study of leatherback sea turtles by Dalhousie University also highlighted a unique struggle for them when they ingest plastic. According to Science Daily, the study found that one-third of the dead leatherbacks since 1968 to 2009 perished from eating plastic.

That's because leatherback sea turtles have teeth that line their throats.

The teeth keep their meals from escaping.

But these teeth can also trap plastic like balloons or bags from being regurgitated once the turtle realizes it's not actually food, per Science Daily.

And sea turtles are most in danger of ingesting those suffocating thin plastics, because they look just like their food of choice — jellyfish.

Nothing highlights this invisible threat better than this photo.

Jellyfish or plastic bag?

If you have a tough time telling the difference, just imagine what a sea turtle experiences.

And there's not just a few bags in the ocean waiting to be confused for food. According to the United Nations Regional Information Center, around 100 billion plastic bags are used in just the United States every year.

A good portion of those can end up in the sea, and that's just the garbage from one country.

Plastic bags are so pervasive as ocean trash that one was found in the Mariana Trench.

If even the deepest part of the sea isn't safe, how could any sea turtle be?


Add your name right now and pledge to do your part to protect our oceans from plastic pollution with Oceana.

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