Problem caused by growing amount of trash in oceans
The study also found that the east coasts of Australia and North America, and the coastal areas in Southeast Asia, Southern Africa and Hawaii were particularly dangerous for turtles due to the large amount of marine pollution found there.
"The results indicate that approximately 52 percent of turtles worldwide have eaten debris," said Dr Qamar Schuyler, who had led the study.
The study had examined the threats to six marine turtle species from the estimated four to twelve million tonnes of plastics which enter the oceans every year. When ingested, the plastics and other trash can block the turtle’s gut, pierce the gut wall, or release toxic chemicals into the turtle’s body.
"Australia and North America are lucky to host a number of turtle species, but we also therefore have a responsibility to look after our endangered wildlife. One way to do that is to reduce the amount of debris entering the oceans via our rivers and coastlines," Schuyler stressed.
In an earlier study, Schuyler and her colleagues showed that turtles and other marine animals would consume the plastic trash and other litter, mistaking them for food. Olive Ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are particularly vulnerable due to their habit of feeding on jellyfish and other floating animals, often in the open sea precisely where plastics and trash tend to accumulate.
Schuyler’s current research reflects the findings of a recently published study on seabirds by CSIRO collaborator Dr Chris Wilcox, which found that more than 60 percent of seabird species had ingested debris, and warned that this number was likely to increase to 99 percent by 2050.
"We now know that both sea turtles and seabirds are experiencing very high levels of debris ingestion, and that the issue is growing," said Wilcox.
"It is only a matter of time before we see the same problems in other species, and even in the fish we eat," he added.