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Shocking Photos of Green Sea Turtle Killed by Ingesting Plastics and Other Marine Litter

A green sea turtle was found dead on a beach in Sai Kung, Hong Kong, with its stomach and intestines filled with plastic and other marine debris, underscoring the growing crisis of ocean pollution.

The greatest threat to green sea turtles, which are endangered, is the commercial harvesting of their eggs, poaching and bycatch (unintentional capture from fishing).

However, this recent incident in Hong Kong highlights the disturbing fact that human-caused trash is a growing threat to aquatic life. As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told the Hong Kong Free Press, this is the first time that a green sea turtle in Hong Kong has been found dead from ingesting marine litter.

According to Hong Kong newspaper Stand News, the turtle was found by a local woman named Mandy Wong, who immediately notified the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department upon discovery. When she returned to the site the next day, she was surprised to find that the turtle's body had been torn apart (perhaps by a dog) with the turtle's stomach and intestines filled with trash.

Dee Hwa Chong, senior fish researcher at the Ichthyological Society of Hong Kong, told Chinese newspaper Ming Pao that the turtle had died from ingesting plastic litter that can tear apart its digestive tract and block its intestines, preventing the turtle from taking in food.

The WWF's Coastal Watch conducted a comprehensive survey on marine litter on coastal habitats in Hong Kong from July 2014 and May 2015, and concluded that plastic trash is a severe threat to all marine ecosystems.

"During all of the surveys, we observed various organisms entangled in debris which caused injury or death, like 'ghost nets' (fishing nets which have been cast adrift). We also found fish bite marks on pieces of plastic litter," said Patrick Yeung, Coastal Watch project manager. "The pollutants absorbed by marine animals will potentially bioaccumulate along the food chain, which will eventually damage the marine ecosystem, affect fishery resources and human health. It is imperative that we tackle the marine litter problem at its source immediately."

Green turtles are a protected species in Hong Kong and listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. According to Conserveturtles.org, the current population of nesting females is estimated to be between 85,000 and 90,000.

It's clear that we must reduce our plastic footprint as this pollution chokes the entire marine food chain, from plankton to much larger creatures.

Roughly 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the world’s oceans every year, and according to a recent study, 60 percent of this waste comes from just five countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. As these economies continue to grow and demand more plastic goods, it's projected that plastic consumption in Asia will increase by an astonishing 80 percent to surpass 200 million tons by 2025.

Last week, EcoWatch reported that a dead sperm whale was found off the coast of Taiwan with vast quantities of plastic bags and fishing nets filling its stomach.

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Jessica Kourkounis / Stringer

The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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