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US News Sea Turtles Like the Smell of Plastic in the Ocean so Much They Eat It

07:40  10 march  2020
07:40  10 march  2020 Source:   newsweek.com

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More than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year. "The plastic problem in the ocean is more complex than plastic bags that look like jellyfish or the errant straw stuck in a turtle 's nose," said Joseph Pfaller, research director of Caretta Research Project and co-author of the

That means turtles in the ocean are probably finding plastic because of the smells it has picked up, Goforth says. This challenges the standing hypothesis that sea turtles end up eating so much plastic solely because it *looks* like food—an example being floating plastic bags that resemble

(Video by GeoBeats)

New research has provided fresh insight into why sea turtles find discarded pieces of plastic so appetizing—it not only looks like food, but smells like it too.

A paper published in Current Biology has demonstrated how floating plastics can develop a film of algae and other microorganisms that disguise the synthetic nature of the material. According to the scientists involved, this is the first paper to show the smell of plastic could be encouraging animals to eat it.

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All over the world, sea turtles are swallowing bits of plastic floating in the ocean , mistaking them for tasty jellyfish, or just unable to avoid the Worldwide, more than half of all sea turtles from all seven species have eaten plastic debris, estimated Britta Denise Hardesty, the paper’s senior author and a

Sea turtles are adapted to live in the ocean , with some unique features that help them to survive in the marine environment. Another possibility is that sea turtles can imprint or distinctly remember certain characteristics of their home beach, such as a distinctive smell .

The team observed 15 captive-reared loggerhead turtles from Bald Head Island, North Carolina, in a lab setting and monitored their response to scents delivered through a pipe into the experimental area. The turtles appeared unbothered by the smells of clean plastic and water but were more intrigued by the smells of food and ocean-soaked plastics.

a turtle on a rocky beach: A newborn loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) heads towards the sea after got free from their eggshells at a beach in Kyparissia, south west Greece, on September 23, 2019. - With a coastline of around 44 kilometres (27 miles), Kyparissia had over 3,700 nests this year, up from 3,500 in 2018. Typically, female loggerhead return to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs once they mature at the age of 20. © ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty A newborn loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) heads towards the sea after got free from their eggshells at a beach in Kyparissia, south west Greece, on September 23, 2019. - With a coastline of around 44 kilometres (27 miles), Kyparissia had over 3,700 nests this year, up from 3,500 in 2018. Typically, female loggerhead return to the beach of their birth to lay their eggs once they mature at the age of 20.

The researchers noticed heightened levels of activity as the turtles poked their noses out of the water to sniff the odor. Their nostrils spent three times as much time out of the water when scents of food and ocean-soaked—or "biofouled"—plastic were being pumped into the area, compared to the other scents.

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image captionA giant turtle made of plastic on display at the University of Hull. "Young small turtles actually drift and float with the ocean currents as does much of "We think that small turtles are less selective in what they eat than large adults who eat sea grass and crustaceans, the young turtles are

Why Do Seabirds Eat Plastic ? It Smells Like Fish to Them . A sweeping look at 10 species of The reason it ’s undiminished is that, until recently, we have not dominated the oceans that the seabirds More of them have survived in greater numbers than most other creatures in the developed world

"Biofouled plastic is plastic that has been 'marinating' in the ocean so to speak, and has grown numerous small organisms on it- including algae, barnacles, mollusks, and the like," Kayla Goforth, a biology doctoral student at the University of North Carolina who worked on the study, told Newsweek.

A Paslama Turtle (Lepidochelys oliveacea) returns to the sea after laying eggs on the shore of La Flor Beach Natural Reserve in San Juan del Sur, Rivas department, Nicaragua, on September 27, 2019. (Photo by INTI OCON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images) A Paslama Turtle (Lepidochelys oliveacea) returns to the sea after laying eggs on the shore of La Flor Beach Natural Reserve in San Juan del Sur, Rivas department, Nicaragua, on September 27, 2019. (Photo by INTI OCON / AFP) (Photo credit should read INTI OCON/AFP/Getty Images)

"Once it's grown these small organisms, these organisms emit dimethyl sulfide (DMS) which is an odor that smells like food to a turtle. We know from previous work that turtles can detect DMS and use it as a feeding cue."

One of the leading theories why so much plastic ends up in the guts of sea turtles and other marine animals is that they mistake their appearance for food—a plastic bag, for example, could be mistaken for a jellyfish. This adds a new dimension to the dilemma and suggests their sense of smell could be equally key.

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Sea turtles , also known as the marine turtles , are reptiles belonging to the order Testudines. The turtles are omnivorous by nature and feed on soft corals, jellyfish, shrimp, sea cucumbers, seagrasses, etc. Often, they mistakenly consume plastic floating in the ocean which might be lethal for them .

So much of this plastic is ending up in the ocean that in just a few years, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea . Straws pose a real danger to animals like sea turtles , albatross and fish who can eat them . Take action today: SKIP the STRAW!

Children lift a Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) after being released from ties at Kampung Lere Beach, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia on October 27, 2019. The rare and protected turtle was released by the boy This is after a fisherman catches him when he catches fish in the sea and then leaves it tied to the hot beach. The children then came and felt sorry, then released him back to the sea. (Photo by Basri Marzuki/NurPhoto via Getty Images) © Basri Marzuki/NurPhoto Children lift a Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) after being released from ties at Kampung Lere Beach, Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia on October 27, 2019. The rare and protected turtle was released by the boy This is after a fisherman catches him when he catches fish in the sea and then leaves it tied to the hot beach. The children then came and felt sorry, then released him back to the sea. (Photo by Basri Marzuki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

"This new research regarding sea turtles' attraction to the smell of plastics is particularly concerning because it adds a new dimension to the plastics threat," Nick Mallos, the senior director of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, told Newsweek.

"Previously, the research suggested that sea turtles mistook plastic bags and other debris for jellyfish and other prey. Now it seems appearance isn't the only factor."

ACEH, INDONESIA - JANUARY 17: A group of students release baby Hatchlings (Lepidochelys olivacea) into the sea, which were hatched on the coast of Bangka Jaya on January 17, 2019 in Aceh, Indonesia.  The release of hatchlings into the high seas is part of turtle conservation in the region. Sea turtles are marine animals whose populations are shrinking and are feared to be threatened with extinction in the near future. Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, six of them are in Indonesia.  PHOTOGRAPH BY Fachrul Reza / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Fachrul Reza / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images) © Fachrul Reza / Barcroft Media ACEH, INDONESIA - JANUARY 17: A group of students release baby Hatchlings (Lepidochelys olivacea) into the sea, which were hatched on the coast of Bangka Jaya on January 17, 2019 in Aceh, Indonesia. The release of hatchlings into the high seas is part of turtle conservation in the region. Sea turtles are marine animals whose populations are shrinking and are feared to be threatened with extinction in the near future. Of the seven species of sea turtles in the world, six of them are in Indonesia. PHOTOGRAPH BY Fachrul Reza / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Fachrul Reza / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

But it's not just sea turtles. The study's authors point out that there are close to 700 species of marine mammals, including endangered species of turtle and whale, that are threatened by plastic sea debris through ingestion of small parts and entanglement in fishing equipment.

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"It takes as little as half a gram of plastics to kill a juvenile sea turtle, which means even minimal exposure can be lethal," said Mallos.

IZMIR, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 12, 2020: Sea turtles are pictured at Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Wildlife Park. The wildlife park is home to 138 animal species, over 2600 animals and more than 250 plant species. The animals live in specially designed houses that are made similar to their natural habitats.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Altan Gocher / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Altan Gocher/Barcroft Media via Getty Images) © Altan Gocher / Barcroft Media IZMIR, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 12, 2020: Sea turtles are pictured at Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Wildlife Park. The wildlife park is home to 138 animal species, over 2600 animals and more than 250 plant species. The animals live in specially designed houses that are made similar to their natural habitats.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Altan Gocher / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Altan Gocher/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

The best way to prevent this from happening is to prevent plastics from ending up in the ocean—recent projections suggest there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans by the mid-century if current trends continue.

"Plastic production has increased exponentially since the 1950s, as has the amount of plastic pollution ending up in marine ecosystems worldwide," Charlie Rolsky, Director of Science of Plastic Oceans, told Newsweek.

"The most frequently seen plastic object digested by sea turtles falls within a class of plastic that closely resembles morphological characteristics of turtle prey. These include translucent and more flexible plastic items such as plastic bags, which closely resemble jellyfish, one of the most common sources of prey for several turtle species."

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The current study looked at airborne smells. The team now hopes to investigate waterborne odors emitted by the plastics, which may present a greater threat to older sea turtles.

In the meantime: "Hopefully it will make people think twice before leaving a plastic bottle on the beach, or will inspire them to take a reusable water bottle on a trip instead of buying a disposable plastic one," said Goforth.

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