The Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Thinking about environmental issues that first inspired me to explore the subject outside of school, I thought about an experience my teacher told me. She talked about her involvement in studying the health effects of consuming microplastics on marine life. That being said, her research on the detrimental ecological implications of the presence of microplastics on the Earth’s aquatic life motivated my supplemental investigation into the topic. For the loggerhead sea turtle specifically, they remain in constant danger of mistakenly consuming minute particles of plastic that will affect their lineage unless we take action to regulate microplastics in products.
The loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) is a marine reptile belonging to the family Cheloniidae. The oceanic turtle lives in open oceans and estuaries, weighing between 170 and 4350 pounds, and reaching lengths of 31 to 45 inches. The loggerhead
sea turtle is distributed throughout the world, living in Atlantic, Pacific, Indian oceans, and the Mediterranean sea. Their life span is approximately 50 years, and they have a diet of jellyfish, sponges, shellfish, barnacles, sea urchins, and sometimes seaweed. Currently, their status is classified as federally and state threatened.
What is the reason for the loggerhead sea turtles’ decline? Sea turtles have been overharvested for consumption and turtle products. Additionally, littered plastic bags and wrappers, helium balloons and single fiber fishing lines end up floating in the sea, which can be disastrous to the sea turtles. Balloons and plastic bags, when floating in water, resemble the turtles' main source of food—jellyfish. When turtles mistakenly eat these items or fishing line, their digestive system becomes blocked and they eventually die.
One specific type of plastic that threatens the turtle is microplastics. Microplastics are defined as plastic fibers or pieces that are smaller than 5mm (0.197in) in size. They come in many forms including fragments, beads, fibers, pellets, and more. Because the plastics are so microscopic, the turtles can mistake microplastics for food. The chemicals and chunks in the plastics may impact the biological processes of animals.
A study assessing ingestion of plastics in 42 loggerhead sea turtles revealed the large numbers of plastic fragments found in their gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Finding greater understanding into the prevalence of plastic ingestion, the types of plastic and the corporeal effects of plastic consumption by several generations of sea turtles will help the prioritization of mitigation efforts for the increasing marine debris problem. This research highlights that plastic ingestion is a crucial issue for marine turtles from the earliest stages of life.
What can Connecticut citizens do? You can help sea turtles by safely disposing of or recycling fishing line, plastic bags, and balloons. In an effort to help stifle the issue of balloons in Long Island Sound, Connecticut has passed legislation limiting helium balloon releases to no more than 9 in a 24-hour period. With the force of a little wind, even balloons released in the inland of Connecticut can end up in the Sound.
Also, many sea turtles are tagged for research with metal or plastic labels. Tags are usually on the inside edge of the front flippers; sometimes the rear flippers or the shell may be tagged. If you observe a tagged turtle, do not remove any tags unless the turtle is deceased. Tag numbers should be reported to the address on the tag or to the Wildlife Division's Non Harvested Wildlife Program, 391 Route 32, North Franklin, CT 06254, (203) 642-7239. Connecticut residents can continue to help the sea turtles by supporting legislation that protects the turtles and curbs the use of harmful plastics that go into our oceans.
Contact legislation: Contact the Connecticut DEEP
Ella Ip is a Sierra Club member and senior at Hopkins School.
Eastman, Catherine B. "Plastic Ingestion in Post-hatchling Sea Turtles: Assessing a Major Threat in Florida Near Shore Waters." Frontiers in Marine Science. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2020.00693.
"Loggerhead Sea Turtle." CT.gov. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Loggerhead-Sea-Turtle.
"Microplastic Marine Debris Fact Sheet." Marine Debris Program. Accessed December 12, 2020. https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/fact-sheets/microplastic-marine-debris-fact-sheet.
Photo: Loggerhead sea turtle
Photo credit: Flickr - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serice Southeast Region