Marine plastic pollution impacts on Green sea turtles.

Brazil is such a wonderful country  with so much natural beauty.
Whilst working at Gremar Marine Wildlife rescue centre in Guaruja, I helped care for some of the many amazing species that are found throughout Brazil, including Green sea turtles. I have seen first hand the suffering that they go through because of plastic within the oceans. 
The purpose of my research is to help develop knowledge about this issue, raise awareness and promote environmental education to help protect the Green Sea turtle populations. 

 

Plastic pollution within the oceans is one of the major destructive forces that numerous marine species are effected by. Plastic pollution affects the marine ecosystem at all levels, from micro – organisms to large mammalian species (Nelms et 2015).
It is estimated that around 700 species of marine wildlife are know to be devastatingly affected by plastic and the impacts on their populations and their survival rate is vast (Laist, 1987; Andrady, 2011). Entanglement and ingestion of litter is one of the main ways in which marine life are affected (Derraik, 2002; Andrady, 2011).

 

adult-turtle-swimming

Green Sea turtle in Care at Gremar Rescue Centre, Brazil.

 

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Various trash items left on beach in Brazil. 

 

Marine mammals, seabirds, turtles, fish and crustaceans are regularly found entangled in various floating or submerged debris which leads to inability to catch food, drowning, prevention of movement as well serve wounds to their body (Laist, 1987; Andrady, 2011).
Additionally, ingestion of plastic debris will cause blockages to their digestive system as well damage to their stomach linings. This results in an inability to feed or excrete waste and results in a slow and painful death (Nelms et al 2015; Derraik, 2002).
The dramatic decline in populations of sea turtle’s, seabirds and marine mammals are continually being linked with the plastic pollution within the marine environment over the past 2 decades (Islam and Tanaka, 2004).
Waste items that are now found throughout the earths oceans range from plastic bags, fishing lines and nets, bottle caps, clothing tags, child’s toys, clothes as well as a number of micro plastics (Bjorndal, et al 1994; Bornscheuer, 2016)
These waste items alone have endangered many marine species, putting them at risk of extinction and in turn completely altering the marine ecosystem.

sea-turtle-black-and-white

A healthy Green Sea Turtle swimming along a coral reef, Ilha Grande, Brazil. 
Mortality rates of juvenile’s sea turtles are becoming an increasing concern for the population growth and development.  It is evident that the increase in mortality rates of Green sea turtle will in turn decrease successful breeding, reproduction and hope for future generations.
Plastic bags, packaging, fishing gear and varying types of hard plastics including bottles caps and child’s toys are some of the most present items found inside the digestive systems of Green sea turtles. This research demonstrates that these items are one of the major factors in the increased mortality rates of Green sea turtles in Southern Brazil.
 
Around 311 million tons of plastics are produced annually throughout the world and only around 14% recovered for recycling (Bornscheuer, 2016; Plastic Oceans, 2016).
The continued use of plastic items such as bags, packaging, fishing gear and the lack of proper disposal for these waste items, is catastrophically altering the marine ecosystem.
 

 

Pots-of-rubbish

Plastic found inside the digestive system of Green Sea turtles that died due to plastic consumption. 

Plastic-Class

Fraction of the global plastics production in 2007 after (Brien, 2007).
80% of plastic debris found in the oceans originates from land – based sources, beach litter being one of the main culprits (Watson et al, 2006). Commonly used disposable consumer packaging, such as straws, wrappers and bottles, are a main concern for marine life (Andrady, 2003). Additionally, fishing industries as well as Aquaculture contribute around 18% of the plastic pollution in the waters (Watson et al, 2006; Hinojosa and Thiel, 2009).
Brazil, the most biodiverse country on earth is home to a number of species and some of the worlds most beautiful natural environments. however, like many places throughout the planet today, a number of species are currently suffering enormously from anthropogenic activities, the increase in marine debris being one of them (Possatto et al, 2011).
Reports have shown that tourism within Brazil is the main source of marine debris (Santos et al, 2005). Over the past 2 decades there has been a huge increase in tourism but there still remains a lack of environmental awareness and education (Santos et al, 2005).
A research into the “Influence of socio-economic characteristics of beach users on litter generation” showed that the beaches that were utilized by people with lower annual income and literacy degrees the higher the daily litter debris to beaches (Santos et al, 2005), indicating that education plays a huge role in environmental awareness.
Another study along the coastline of Armação dos Búzios, revealed that beach litter by recreational visitors is a main source of plastic pollution to the area (Oigman-Pszczol and Creed, 2007).

 

 

Noronha-beach

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. Fernando de Noronha is a volcanic archipelago about 350 kilometers off Brazil's northeast coast. Protected national marine park and ecological sanctuary.

Portrait-trash

Plastic items found inside a Green Sea turtles digestive system.
 
The increasing problem of the marine plastic pollution throughout the world is ever apparent. The impacts this is having species such as the Green Sea turtle is growing and the need for development of environmental education and waste management is imperative.
The purpose of my project was to develop knowledge around the types of plastic that the green sea turtles are affected by in Southern Brazil. 
Gremar, a marine wildlife rescue centre based in Guaruja, in the state of São Paulo, rescue, rehabilitate and release back into the wild various marine wildlife along the southeast coast. The data I used was obtained from this centre and the knowledge I gained will help to develop future projects in research as well as environmental education programs. 
The results demonstrate that the three most present items inside the digestive systems of the Green sea turtles are plastic wrappers, hard plastics and plastic bags. Other items that are regularly found include rubber, fishing lines, ropes and clothing.
The results indicate that the amount of plastic ingested does not increase or decrease the likelihood of survival. Some individuals have only 3 pieces and others as much as 500 pieces of plastic. This indicates that types of plastic may be more relevant to likelihood of death rather than quantity.
Previous studies have indicated that one single piece of hard plastic can be detrimental, however, others have shown that with time and dependant on size and shape of the plastic ingested, the items are can be passed through along with their faeces (Nelms et al 2015).

 

Pie-chart

Pie chart to show the percentage of the various types of plastic seen in the Green sea turtle specimens.

me-cleaning-turtle

Myself caring for a Green sea Turtle at Gremar rescue centre. This particular turtle was successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild, thanks to the team at Gremar. 
There is a clear need for concern regarding the health and survival of the Green Sea turtle population in Southern Brazil. Increasing plastic litter within the oceans, lack of environmental educational and awareness as well as high levels of plastic production and improper disposal of waste are all keys factors in the current issue.
This study leaves a great deal of scope to delve deeper into the origins of the litter consumed, the types of litter and the implications this has on the survival of the Green sea turtle populations in southern Brazil.

green-sea-turtle

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