Mediterranean Sea Turtles Die Choking on Plastic Bags

Mediterranean Sea Turtles Die Choking on Plastic Bags

ATHENS, Greece, June 7, 2012 (ENS) - The plastic bags floating in the Mediterranean Sea are killing many sea turtles as they mistake the white bags for the jellyfish they prey upon, says the Mediterranean Association to Save Sea Turtles, MEDASSET.

On May 23, World Turtle Day, MEDASSET launched an awareness raising campaign on the Athens railways and tramways about the devastating effects of plastic bags on Mediterranean marine life.

The ad, "You See the Difference. A Turtle Does Not," also was posted on MEDASSET's Facebook site. In a matter of hours it went viral, shared by tens of thousands of people from New York to Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Australia and throughout Europe.

"The issue of plastic litter in our seas, and especially plastic bags that sea turtles often mistake for food, appears to resonate with people who flooded Facebook with comments and requests to share the ad in their communities," says MEDASSET spokesperson Jenny Ioannou.

According to the European Commission, there are now some 250 billion plastic particles with a combined weight of 500 tonnes floating in the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean Sea is an enclosed basin frequented by three sea turtle species.

The leatherback turtle has been recorded from nearly every area and country bordering the Mediterranean, according to a report published in 2010 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, IUCN.

Loggerhead turtles also are found throughout the Mediterranean, with the highest density in the westernmost part of the sea and in the north Adriatic, off Tunisia and Libya, off Egypt and off Turkey's southeast coast.

Green turtles frequent the eastern waters of the Levantine basin off Turkey, Syria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt.

Scientists have found marine debris in 35 percent of the loggerheads examined, with plastic being the prevalent type of debris consumed, according to a 2008 study cited in the IUCN report.

A separate survey along the Egyptian Mediterranean coast conducted in 2008 interviewed many fishermen and fishmongers in Alexandria who said that plastic bags were often found in the stomachs and digestive tracts of turtles.

Routine necropsies done at the Archelon Rescue Centre at Glyfada in the Athens Metropolitan Area very often reveal plastics in the digestive tracts of loggerheads, the IUCN reports. The bags block the turtles' digestive systems, causing their deaths.

In the Spanish Mediterranean, loggerhead turtles feed in a way that makes them highly vulnerable to debris ingestion, since they may consider plastic bags to be potential prey, the IUCN report states. Studies on the contents of their intestinal systems shows plastic is the most frequent and abundant type of debris swallowed by turtles.

The IUCN says in its report, "We consider extremely urgent the adoption of measures for the reduction of pollutants and litter spills at sea. A greater control of both land-based and sea-based litter spills, plus cleaning measures of marine debris, particularly of plastic bags, must be intensive and generalized throughout the Spanish Mediterranean."

MEDASSET is using the attention its ad has generated to urge everyone to adopt habits that minimize the use of plastic bags.

The nonprofit organization says, "Consider using a reusable bag when shopping, avoid single-use plastic items, look for products and packaging made from renewable resources, choose products with the least plastic packaging and recycle what you can't refuse!"

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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