Studies: plastic pollution killing marine life

The New York Times discusses These Items in Your Home Are Harming America’s Sea Animals. A new report examines how plastic waste affects marine wildlife. How severely the world’s plastic waste crisis is affecting marine wildlife is not fully understood, despite decades of research and gruesome images of whales’ bellies filled with plastic and a turtle with a straw lodged in its nostril. A new report by Oceana, a conservation group, illustrates some of what we know about how plastic affects sea turtles and marine mammals in United States waters.

In 2016, the United States produced more plastic waste than any other nation, and more of that plastic entered the ocean than previously thought, according to a recent study. As of 2015, less than a tenth of the world’s cumulative plastic waste had been recycled.

Scientists are learning more about why animals consume plastic. To sea turtles, a floating plastic bag may resemble a jellyfish meal, but that doesn’t explain the bottle caps and hard plastic shards found in their digestive tracts or stool. One study suggested that plastic starts to smell appetizing as it becomes coated in algae and microorganisms.

In South Carolina, one ailing loggerhead passed almost 60 pieces of plastic through its digestive system during its rehabilitation at a sea turtle center. Juveniles are more at risk because of their size and undeveloped gastrointestinal tract. More than 20 percent of the sea turtles that had ingested plastic were just months old. Some were only a few days old. A recent Australian study found that just 14 pieces of plastic in their digestive tracts significantly increased sea turtles’ risk of death.

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