Ocean trash threatening the lives of sea turtles

Ocean trash threatening the lives of sea turtles

JUPITER, Fla. — Picking up trash on our shores can be chore, but a team in Jupiter dedicates hours each week to doing just that.

Piece by piece. It is a weekly ritual for Katie O'Hara and her team at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. That is picking up trash on the beach.

“Between 70 and 90 percent of everything we collect out here is plastic,” says O'Hara, conservation coordinator at Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

Sadly there's no shortage of it especially when you consider where some of it comes from like a chewed up vinegar bottle.

“It’s from the Dominican Republic and the ocean currents act as a conveyor belt,” says O’Hara

In fact they routinely get trash washing up from West Africa. It’s all collected, counted and sorted.

“We got almost 49,000 pieces in 2018 alone of plastics mixed together,” O’Hara adds.

The numbers are staggering for last year alone from their small 9.5 mile stretch of beach they patrol. Over 35,000 foam pieces, 25,000 cigarette butts, 9,000 bottle caps and 4,000 straws.

“It’s actually kind of scary that we could end up losing an entire age class of turtles just from the plastic they are accumulating in the wild,” says Dr. Charles Manire, Director of Rehabilitation at Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

If you want the harsh reality of what we we're doing to our beaches, just ask Manire. For 30 years he's worked to bring sea turtles on the verge of death back to life.

“It’s not a question of if we're gonna see plastic, it’s a question of how much,” he says.

Manire's team has removed so much from inside sea turtles nothing surprises him. Technology has also given his team a harsh look inside. A common Bronchoscopy procedure where a camera and a scope are inserted into a sea turtle's trachea have brought the worst images to life.

“A fish hook caused scar tissue damage in the turtles trachea,” he points out.

The team is able to perform life-saving surgery giving sea turtles more time in tanks and eventually a release back into the ocean. But it’s just a matter of time where the vicious cycle of deadly plastics become apparent.

“Some of the pieces that we find on the beaches have actually turtle bites taken out of the plastic,” says O’Hara.

A reminder we are the ones doing the damage and we are the ones that have to change it. One single piece of plastic at a time.

“This is a global issue, it’s something we all have in common. Everyone can try to eliminate one single use plastic item in their life,” says O’Hara.

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