Microplastics found in every turtle tested in international study

  Last updated December 10, 2018 at 12:06 pm

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Every turtle tested from Queensland, and the Atlantic and Mediterranean contained microplastics.


More than 100 turtles were tested, and all contained micro-plastic particles. Credit: Kwangmoozaa/Getty Images


Yet more research has highlighted the escalating environmental threat posed by microplastics.


British scientists working with researchers from James Cook University and the Queensland Department of Environment and Science, found small synthetic fibres in the guts of every one of the 102 sea turtles they studied: more than 800 particles in all, and they only looked at a part of each gut. The total present, they suspect, was as much as 20 times higher.


And the problem is widespread. The turtles were from seven species and three parts of the world: off North Carolina, US, in the Atlantic Ocean, Northern Cyprus in the Mediterranean, and off Queensland.


The most common particles were fibres, which can come from such diverse sources as clothing, tyres, cigarette filters, ropes and fishing nets.


The most affected turtles were from the Mediterranean, but the sample size and methodology did not allow for detailed geographical comparisons.


The study was led by the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, working with the Greenpeace Research Laboratories. The findings are reported in a paper published in the journal Global Change Biology.


The researchers don’t know how synthetic particles are ingested by turtles – the likely sources are polluted seawater and sediments and eating via prey or plants – or what their effect is. But they’d like to.


“Their small size means they can pass through the gut without causing a blockage, as is frequently reported with larger plastic fragments,” says lead author Emily Duncan.


“However, future work should focus on whether microplastics may be affecting aquatic organisms more subtly. For example, they may possibly carry contaminants, bacteria or viruses, or they may affect the turtle at a cellular or subcellular level.”


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About the Author

Nick Carne
Nick Carne is the Editorial Manager for the Royal Institution of Australia.

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