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All seven species of sea turtles were found to have microplastics in their stomachs, according to a new study.
“This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas and maintain clean, healthy and productive oceans for future generations,” Dr. Penelope Lindeque, of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said in a press release. The findings were published in Global Change Biology.
Microplastics are particles that measure less than 5 millimeters in size. Researchers worry these fibers could carry bacteria or viruses and infect the turtles, or alter them at a cellular level.
However, the study stressed that while this research is alarming, it’s not “the main threat” to the species and more work needs to be done to determine the long-term effects these microplastics could have.
“Their small size [microplastics] means they can pass through the gut without causing a blockage, as is frequently reported with larger plastic fragments,” Dr. Emily Duncan, the study’s lead author, said. “However, future work should focus on whether microplastics may be affecting aquatic organisms more subtly.”
Ecologists collected samples from 102 sea turtles from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Mediterranean sea. In all, they detected over 800 particles of tiny synthetic fibers, which usually come from cigarette filters, clothes and fishing nets.
Unfortunately, since it was just a sample, researchers estimate the count could be up to 20 times higher.
“While this study has been successful,” said Lindeque. “It does not feel like a success to have found microplastic in the gut of every single turtle we have investigated.”