People urged to reconsider shopping choices

Two hatchling turtles that succumbed after ingesting microplastic, and the plastics that caused their deaths.

This month is Plastic Free July, and the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation is urging people to reconsider their shopping choices in order to have a positive impact on the environment.

Plastic Free July is a time during which awareness is raised around plastic pollution, the aim being to reduce dependence on plastic, with tomorrow, July 3, marking International Plastic Bag Free Day.

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation continues to raise awareness of the negative impact of plastic pollution on sea turtles.

According to a statement by the Two Oceans Aquarium, plastic pollution in the ocean is one of the biggest threats facing all sea turtles. This year, 71% of the sea turtles being rehabilitated by the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation had consumed plastic.

The total number of pieces of plastic passed by turtles is 514 to date, with an average of 12 pieces per turtle. Little loggerhead hatchling #43 had an astonishing 121 pieces inside its body, causing the turtle’s early and sad death.

Two Oceans Aquarium spokesperson, Renee Leeuwner said plastic bags, balloons, and microplastics are eaten by sea turtles as they mistake them for food. Unable to digest the plastic, the turtles accumulate the pieces in their gut until they feel “full” and eventually stop eating.

“They remain in this state as they cannot pass the plastic, and eventually either starve to death or succumb to infection caused by the ingested plastic.”

Through exposure to the sun and wave action, large pieces of plastic are broken up into microplastics. These tiny pieces of plastic float on the ocean surface and are easily accessible to hatchling turtles that mistake them for food.

Ms Leeuwner said another consequence of plastic ingestion is that many of the microplastic pieces are hard shards that cut into the digestive systems of the turtles and cause death.

“Everyday changes in behaviour and consumer choices can also have a great impact on turtle numbers. By reducing dependency on plastic and rethinking our purchasing choices, we are able to reduce the burden that plastic is having on our ocean.

“Furthermore, disposing of our rubbish responsibly and by refusing, rethinking, reducing and reusing, we are able to collectively ensure a better environment not only for sea turtles, but also for us.”

The aquarium’s education foundation takes stranded hatchling turtles in, as well as others, including adults and sub-adults, that are found stranded on beaches throughout the year. The turtles are rehabilitated in order for them to be released back into warmer waters.

One of the great success stories of the Rehabilitation Programme is the story of Alvi, a green turtle that was brought to the aquarium for rehabilitation in December 2018. The turtle showed signs of laboured breathing and, after consultation with various vets, a procedure was undertaken to investigate what was causing the obstruction in the turtle’s airway. A piece of plastic bag was removed from the turtle’s throat and within days, Alvi started showing signs of improvement.

Alvi was successfully released in November 2019.

The Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation is reaching out to individuals, corporates, concerned citizens, and anyone who would like to help rehabilitate sea turtles, to donate to its sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation and release programme.

The programme is funded through once-off, recurring and corporate donations and provide care for sea turtles that would ordinarily not survive being stranded.

For more information, visit aquariumfoundation.org.za