Did Missing Turtles Eat Plastic Bags?
Posted September 14th, 2007 (TOPP)
George Shillinger in Monterey, CA -- Mistaking them for jellyfish, Stephanie, Windy, Drexelina and Champira ate a bunch of plastic bags. Ingesting the bags weakened them because they were unable to digest their real food. They couldn’t avoid the nets, or they starved.
One of the divas of the Great Turtle Race, Stephanie Colburtle, hasn’t sent us a message for more than 100 days. We’re a little concerned about her and three other turtles: Windy, Champira and Drexelina. The other seven turtles are well on their way to their distant feeding grounds off Peru and Chile. This week, we’re looking at all the possibilities of what could have happened to the missing turtles.
“Last year on the beach in Costa Rica, a turtle defecated a plastic bag,” says TOPP researcher Jim Spotila, who’s been monitoring leatherbacks at Playa Grande, Costa Rica, for decades. The Drexel University professor founded the Leatherback Trust to save the leatherback turtle from extinction. “So I think they encounter them quite often. They pass them through their digestive system, or they get caught in their gut. They could starve to death. When we do necropsies on turtles that get caught in nets and drown, we find plastic bags. Are they weak because they haven’t been able to eat? Is that why they get tangled up and get caught? It’s hard to tell.”
The tons of plastic that’s dumped into the oceans ends up concentrating in giant eddys the size of football fields. Here's an animation from the GreenPeace Web site that shows how plastic accumulates in the ocean over time.
And here are photos of plastic bags taken from the stomach of a green turtle that died, plus pieces of netting, and, with the bags laid out, a compressed piece of styrofoam.