60% of Loggerhead Turtles Stranded on Beaches in South Africa Had Ingested Plastic
We know that ocean plastic can have a devastating impact on aquatic life such as seabirds, fish and whales. Now, researchers have found that 60 percent of post-hatchling loggerhead turtles stranded on southern Cape beaches in South Africa have been impacted by growing quantities of human-caused debris such as plastic fragments, packaging and fibers.
A new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin last month reported that 24 out of 40 of loggerhead turtles died within two months of stranding in April 2015. Of the turtles that died, 16 had ingested plastic. Gruesomely, 11 of these turtles died because plastic was blocking their digestive tracts or bladders.
Here are other key points from the study, as reported by South Africa's Times Live:
- Plastic comprised 99 percent of debris collected.
- The majority—77 percent—were hard plastic fragments‚ 10 percent were from flexible packaging and 8 percent were fibers.
- Industrial pellets comprised 3 percent, compared to around 70 percent in a previous study between 1968 and 1973.
- In the earlier study‚ only 12 percent of stranded post-hatchlings contained plastics‚ compared to the 60 percent of the current study.
"Our results indicate that the amount and diversity of plastic ingested by post-hatchling loggerhead turtles off South Africa have increased over the last four decades, and now kill some turtles," the study says.
South Africa’s beaches are inundated with plastic, the Sunday Times reported in December. According to data released by Plastics South Africa, there are roughly 400 pieces of plastic per square meter. Another study found that South Africa ranks as the 11th worst country for dumping plastics in the ocean, between Bangladesh and India, the publication noted.
The turtle study's lead author, Peter Ryan of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology and the DST-NRF's Centre of Excellence at the University of Cape Town, told the Sunday Times that South Africa needs multiple strategies to clean up its plastic problem.
Prof Ryan of @Fitztitute: Just how bad is plastic pollution in South Africa's oceans? https://t.co/qrGlAfkC73 #turtle— NRF South Africa (@NRF South Africa)1461918442.0
“There’s nothing wrong with plastic—the problem is what people do with it‚” Ryan said‚ explaining that half of South Africa’s solid waste does not go into formal waste streams.
He also pointed out that plastic packaging such as candy wrappers are difficult to recycle.
“Every time you do one of these (beach litter) surveys you discover a whole new kind of packaging‚” Ryan said. “We need to be more proactive about how we package things.”
Ryan, however, said that a solution is possible.
“It’s a question of making sure that we dispose of plastic properly and working towards making sure there is a value attached to waste plastic‚” he said. “It’s a completely solvable problem.”
Plastic pollution is impacting sea turtles around the world. Last summer, EcoWatch posted a viral video of researchers from The Leatherback Trust removing a 4-inch plastic straw from a male olive ridley turtle’s nose in Costa Rica.
A few months after saving the first turtle, the researchers found another olive ridley in Costa Rica with plastic lodged deeply in its nostril—this time a 5-inch plastic fork.
Thankfully, the research team was able to relieve both turtles, but as Dr. George Shillinger, the executive director of the Monterey, California-based conservation nonprofit, told EcoWatch, it's “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“This was an isolated incident involving a single turtle in a small area off a nesting beach in Costa Rica," Shillinger said. "Just imagine globally what’s happening.”
Last year, researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia and Imperial College London released a report with the startling finding that 90 percent of seabirds today have eaten plastic, and if humans don’t stop dumping plastic into the ocean, it’s predicted that 99 percent of seabirds will swallow plastic by 2050.
When asked if this trend is also happening with turtles, Shillinger replied without hesitation: “Totally. Turtles are occupying the same habitats … Without a doubt these animals are consuming plastics in areas where they’d otherwise go to consume prey.”
Exclusive Interview: Researchers Remove Plastic Fork Lodged in Turtle's Nose https://t.co/kwjVHFBn69 @TheLeatherback https://t.co/mSO9OuwUtW— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1450540021.0
Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste is dumped into our oceans every year, and the pollution is only getting worse as consumer use of plastic and plastic-intensive goods intensifies in emerging countries.
Not only that, an alarming study by the University of Delaware physical oceanographer Tobias Kukulka reported that there might be much more plastic than what’s estimated.
“My research has shown that ocean turbulence actually mixes plastics and other pollutants down into the water column despite their buoyancy,” Kukulka said, according to UD Daily. “This means that surface measurements could be wildly off and the concentration of plastic in the marine environment may be significantly higher than we thought.”
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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