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SOURCE: Hakai Magazine

DATE: December 10, 2018

SNIP: Tiny pieces of plastic in the ocean are killing juvenile loggerhead turtles, a new study shows, threatening the survival of the endangered species.

Wind, waves, and sunshine break down discarded plastic—from water bottles to fishing gear—into tiny pieces. About 90 percent of the estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic that litters the ocean measures less than five millimeters across, or about half the width of a pinky finger. Plastic like this can now be found littering a brown seaweed called sargassum, in which loggerhead turtles forage for food.

For the new study, Evan White of the New Materials Institute at the University of Georgia examined the gastrointestinal tracts of 52 turtles that died at only days or months old and found that 48 contained plastic. The plastic bits, which were up to a millimeter wide, were sometimes lodged in the turtles’ narrow, winding intestines, blocking the passage of food. The blockages were enough to cause the turtles to starve. The plastic was just a tiny percentage of their body weight, but enough to kill them.

Juno Beach is one of the world’s most densely nested sea turtle sites. One of every 20 loggerhead turtles on the planet starts its life here. The beach is also littered with plastic. On a recent November survey, for instance, a team of center volunteers found dozens of plastic fragments, including pieces of straws, bottle caps, a comb, and even Chinese sausage packaging.

The study’s findings show how serious the dangers of microplastic are to the survival of loggerhead turtles, says Jeanette Wyneken, a biologist at Florida Atlantic University who was not involved with the work. “[Plastics are] considered a pretty substantial threat to survival of the species.