Microplastics are Harming Sea Turtles

Baby loggerhead turtle

Source: Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wikimedia commons

Microplastics are harming sea turtles

Microplastics are small plastic particles less than 5mm (~0.2 in) in size. These tiny particles can harm many ocean dwelling species by: reducing their intake of normal food; damaging their gut; and shifting (translocating) into other cellular tissue where the plastics may cause harm. Recently, it has come to our attention that microplastics have been harming sea turtles. This really does bring home the message that the growing microplastic threat is harming a number of our greatest ocean species!

The amazing people at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) are doing amazing work to rehabilitate a number of these turtles. LMC is a non-profit education and ocean conservation facility located on the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach County, Florida. Its focus is on threatened and endangered sea turtles, as it is located on one of the most densely-nested loggerhead sea turtle beaches in the world. The nesting season on South Florida’s east coast runs from March 1 to October 31, and this year alone, they have already documented more than 7,000 loggerhead sea turtle nests.

The founder, Eleanor Fletcher, started LMC more than 30 years ago when she noticed the abundance of sea turtles on the shores in the Juno Beach, Florida area. The center began as an educational facility, but overtime its vision also grew to encompass sea turtle research and rehabilitation as well as ocean conservation.

In 2007, LMC’s current 12,000 square foot certified green facility opened. The campus holds a full veterinary service hospital, classrooms, a research lab, a resource center, an interactive exhibit hall, and a marine-themed gift store. Just across the street is the beautiful Atlantic Ocean, where sea turtle patients are released after they have received treatment and are medically cleared.

Betty White the sea turtle

After months of vitamins, fluids and close monitoring by LMC hospital staff, Betty White was cleared for release and was returned to the ocean on June 8, 2016.

Captain Hook the loggerhead

 Captain Hook is released back into the Ocean after rehabilitation at Loggerhead Marinelife Center

The rehabilitation team at LMC constantly works to ensure the health and safety of the turtles that come into the facility. There are a number of factors that can cause injury to turtles. One of those is microplastics.

LMC has seen microplastics in a number of turtle patients. Currently, the rehabilitation team is documenting the amount of microplastics, as well as saving the pieces for further research and education at the center.

Plastics recovered from loggerhead turtles

Microplastics collected from loggerhead turtles

Plastics recovered from sea turtles. Source: Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Click to enlarge.

Microplastics Close-up

The following maps show the distribution of microplastics and loggerhead turtles in the worlds oceans. The clear overlap demonstrates why these amazing animals are so vulnerable to the growing threat of microplastic pollution.

microplastics_distribution

Distribution of microplastics in the worlds oceans. Click to head to the interactive map by Dumpark.

Note the close overlap with actual loggerhead observations. Click on the points on the map location to see observation details.

All of the sea turtle patients brought into LMC are there for a temporary stay. Often, someone may spot a stranded or injured sea turtle, either on the beach, in local waters or through an accidental hooking. These turtles are rehabilitated by the dedicated hospital staff that constantly strive to help the animals get back to the ocean – whether through proper nutrients and medications (or surgery if needed). The director of research and rehabilitation, Dr. Charles Manire, has developed innovative treatment methods for the sea turtles, such as total parenteral nutrition, similar to an IV system, which helps the animals receive proper nutrients if they are not eating on their own.

LMC continues to grow tremendously. In 2015, the center welcomed more than 300,000 visitors, and have plans for a capital expansion that will be announced this year. With 16 global conservation partners, LMC’s mission has expanded from a sea turtle rehabilitation center to a leading authority in ocean conservation efforts through programs such as the Responsible Pier Initiative, which educates anglers through signage about responsible fishing practices. More than 40 piers have joined the RPI in Florida, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and Puerto Rico.

LMC also offers more than 30 educational and public programs, including Junior Marine Biologist summer camp, Science for Seniors and nighttime Turtle Walks – which allow guests to experience sea turtle nesting up close. Additionally, LMC offers a variety of signature events, including Lights Out, its fundraising gala, and TurtleFest, a family-friendly day of fun, shopping, music and more that brings around 10,000 people to the center.

Although the ocean’s future may appear dim, LMC staff members are confident that further research and awareness will help us all to understand how plastic debris impacts sea turtles, and more importantly – how to prevent this issue in the first place.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Head on over to the official website for the Loggerhead Marinelife Center and support their great work.

Take me there

Logo of the Loggerhead Marine Centre

Share your own microplastics related work now. It’s easy! Check out this post to find out how.

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