Plastic Turtles Project

Plastic Turtles Project

Plastic Turtles Project

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I arrived in Australia at the end of February to do my 6 months Master’s internship. So cool to see wallabies on the campus instead of pigeons (in Paris) and boars (in Marseille) ! Wildlife is so beautiful here. My MSc minor project tooks place at the Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research Center (TropWATER), James Cook University, Townsville.

Plastic pollution has become a ubiquitous problem in the marine environment. It can cause problems to marine species and affect habitat quality. The amount of plastic produced every year is increasing and so  the negative impacts of plastic pollution are increasing in both spatial scale and severity. In this context, the aim of this project is to develop a repeatable protocole to recover and quantify plastic macro (> 5 mm in diametrer) and micro (< 5 mm in diameter) particles in biological samples.

Given the ecological significance of ingestion as a primary exposure pathway for plastics, I will use the ingestion pathway of the green turtle, Chelonia mydas, as a case study. Thus, I will sample green turtle digestive tract tissues and contents, and seagrass they feed on (only one species). I already have turtles waiting for me : 9 stranded turtles, which have been frozen until necropsy in Airlie Beach (it’s really close to the Whitsundays), such an amazing place ! I won the lottery !

To avoid samples contamination, we will not use plastic containers/jars/cutting board/clothes/etc. and they are not so easy to find ! It really makes you realise that everything is or contains plastics. Even aluminium foil ! We are really brainstorming about what we can use for our manipulations.

In the ocean, plastics are broken in smaller and smaller particles under the influence of physico/chemical paramaters such as the hydrodynamism and UV. They  are persistent components and can be ingested by organisms, from whales to copepods and even by scleractinians polyps. Thereby, plastics integrate food webs and can affect the digestion of organisms, and their fitness. This is besides fishing and ghost nets, plastics bags, etc., with which animals can get tangled and/or smothered

Actually, there are 5 ways for plastics to be ingested by marine species :

  •  They are opportunistic feeders : ingesting debris in proportion to what they encounter in the environment
  • They ingest debris because it looks like their prey
  • They ingest debris secondary to the ingestion of prey with debris in digestive tract
  • They ingest debris accidentally during predation events, or when the debris is an item of curiosity or object of play, as reported in some marine mammal species

So, if you are wondering how you can reduce your utilisation of plastics through simple acts, here are nice ideas from amazing people I live with :

  1. Avoid facial cleansers with microplastic particles inside (used as exfoliant)
  2. Use a carafe instead of buying plastic bottles
  3.  Use coton shopping bags, and smaller ones for fruits and vegetables instead of plastic bags
  4.  By food with no containers; cook yourselves ! Less plastics and you know what you eat ;D
  5.  Store your food in (plastic) bags/containers you will keep and re use for a long time instead of cellophane wrapping paper you only use once or twice

Even if these items are in plastics, it makes a big difference to use them for months/years instead of days. You can also find these items made in coton, glass or wood, which is even better.

It is up to you now !

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