WASHINGTON - In a new study, it has been determined that the prehistoric leatherback turtles, who survived even the extinction of dinosaurs, are now threatened with extinction themselves, all thanks to humans.
Leatherback turtles are the descendants of one of the oldest family trees in history, spanning 100 million years.
But, today, the creatures, the most widely distributed reptiles on Earth, are threatened with extinction themselves, in large part due to the carelessness of humans.
According to Dalhousie University’s Mike James, who co-authored a recent article in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin entitled “Leatherback turtles: The menace of plastic,” “We wanted to see if plastics ingestion in leatherbacks was hype or reality.”
“It was a monumental effort that looked back at necropsies over the last century from all over the world,” he explained. “After reviewing the results of 371 necropsies since 1968, we discovered over one third of the turtles had ingested plastic,” he added.
Since leatherbacks prefer eating jellyfish, it’s widely believed they mistake bags or other plastics for their meals.
Since jellyfish and marine debris concentrate where ocean water masses meet, leatherbacks feeding in these areas are vulnerable to ingesting plastic.
Once leatherbacks ingest plastic, thousands of spines lining the throat and esophagus make it nearly impossible to regurgitate.
The plastic can lead to partial or even complete obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in decreased digestive efficiency, energetic and reproductive costs and, for some, starvation.
“Plastics ingestion doesn’t always cause death, but there are clearly health risks to the turtles,” said Dr. James.
“The frustrating, yet hopeful aspect is that humans can easily begin addressing the solution, without major lifestyle changes. It’s as simple as reducing packaging and moving towards alternative, biodegradable materials and recycling,” he added.
Leatherback turtles are classified as critically endangered worldwide.