Recent reports by scientists estimate that the proportion of plastic debris of our oceans will outweigh all sea life by 2030. Pause for moment about what this really means. Look at what we are doing to all sea life. We don’t have long to save our oceans.
While many refer to the Amazon rain forest as the lungs of the planet, it is actually the world’s oceans and their algal and phytoplankton activity that produce 80 percent of the world’s oxygen needs, our seas are the our vital lungs of the Earth. Yet the oceans are being subjected to an escalating pollution with plastic and toxic effluence contaminating the sea’s fragile ecosystems and food chains. While we continue to over-exploit over 85 percent of the world’s fish stocks. Some experts say that we are the last generation to be able to fish as we do with fish stocks rapidly declining. Read Our Plastic Seas, a Plastic Ecocide.
Plastics build up in their intestines, stick to their fins or cling to their necks until they can no longer breathe. Sea turtles are part of the group of animals most affected in Ecuador by the presence of this material in the oceans.
While these images tend to attract attention, they are not isolated cases. It is increasingly common for these species to be trapped in plastic bags or eat them, mistaking them for food.
Data from the United Nations shows that half of the world’s sea turtles have consumed plastic waste in their lifetime. It is estimated that at least a thousand turtles die each year from these causes.
About 120 sea turtles arrive each year at the Marine Fauna Rehabilitation Center of Machalilla National Park, located in Manabí. Of these, around 80% need treatment for injuries or conditions related to plastics.
Rubén Alemán, a veterinarian and biodiversity management technician at the center, explains that most of the rescued specimens defecate plastic or have them inside.
Some turtles have intestinal obstructions because this material builds up in their body. Depending on the case, they undergo surgery or treatments are applied to be expelled. The biggest problem, Aleman says, is that the plastic gets tangled in the animals’ necks, suffocates them, and ultimately kills them.
On other occasions, it sticks to the fins, the tissue in this area rots due to lack of blood flow, and eventually doctors have to amputate its limbs.
The specialist says that there are currently two turtles in the center that had to undergo this procedure. They arrived with their fins amputated, as they had been found trapped in nylon and plastic.
The animals have completed the treatment at the center, but one of them will no longer be able to return to the ocean. A prosthesis will be built so that you can live under the care of the man. In other cases, the only option is euthanasia.
Turtles arrive with fractures in their shells or with their mouths destroyed, after hanging on hooks or biting nylon. Others have cuts on their bodies, caused by the knives used to remove them from fishing gear.
From babies, these animals must avoid the waste that humans generate and end up in their habitat. 2-year-old specimens that were already defecating plastics have reached Machalilla National Park.
“In marine turtles, all the cases concern me”, explains Alemán, who has worked for eight years in the only rehabilitation center specializing in marine fauna in the country.
This site hosts around 300 seabirds each year; of these, 50% have nylon or waste in their intestines. On two occasions, the specialists had to operate and remove the plastic from the intestine.
They have also had cases of sea lions with intestinal obstruction caused by garbage, disposable blankets, netting and nylon. According to Alemán, the problem continues to increase every year