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Plastic's turtle toll

TurtleAP

Groundbreaking research out of the CSIRO is revealing the deadly impact of plastic rubbish on sea turtles.

Previously it wasn't clear whether seaborne plastics can be fatal to turtles, but after the study of 1000 carcasses on beaches around the country, the science is settled.

Scientists have found once a turtle eats 14 plastic items, it has a 50 per cent chance of dying.

"Even a single piece of plastic can kill a turtle," Lecturer in Animal Ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Dr Kathy Townsend, said.

"Some of the turtles we studied had eaten only one piece of plastic, which was enough to kill it. In one case, the gut was punctured, and in the other, the soft plastic clogged the gut."

The research showed that a turtle had a 22 per cent chance of dying if it eats just one piece of plastic.

Monash University turtle expert, Associate Professor Richard Reina, says Tasmania's plastic bag bans are a welcome step in the right direction.

Popular east coast tourist destination Coles Bay phased them out 15 years ago, while more recently Tasmania's Coles and Woolworths stores were years ahead of their mainland counterparts in providing only reusable bags. 

"Sometimes it just takes one or two supermarkets, or one community or a couple of local communities to do something and say, 'Hey, you know, it's not such a big deal,' and then that can be used as an exemplar," said Dr Reina. 

"A lot of parts of the world have not really done such a great job, particularly when water carries plastic through rivers from inland cities and so on.

"Preventing that from happening is really the important step."

Above photo: AP

Below: Over 100 plastic items recovered from one green sea turtle. Items included plastic bags, hard plastic fragments, balloons, lolly wrappers, and pieces of rope. When the load gets this high, the probability of death reaches 100 per cent (Kathy Townsend). 

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