Horrific turtle deaths from ingesting plastic
A third of turtles found dead on New Zealand beaches have swallowed plastic, an expert says, and single-use shopping bags are the most common culprit.
Dan Godoy, of Massey University’s Coastal-Marine Research Group, said the turtles’ intestinal tract got blocked when they mistook soft plastics for jellyfish, resulting in ‘‘horrific’’ deaths.
‘‘They can’t digest food, and they basically slowly die.
‘‘In the turtles that I’ve looked at, and [from] other studies around the world, it’s the soft, white, and translucent plastics items – so plastic bags particularly – that are consumed in a higher proportion than other items.’’
The Government has been facing mounting pressure from local bodies, environmental groups, and schoolchildren to take action against the more than a billion plastic bags Kiwis discard annually. So far there’s been no real movement on the problem.
Godoy had studied the bodies of roughly 80 stranded turtles, and said of those with plastic in their stomachs, about half had died as a direct result.
‘‘Marine turtles aren’t the only ones, we are seeing this in a huge range of species – seabirds, even whales,’’ he said.
Two-thirds of the country’s mayors have now signed an open letter requesting central government impose a mandatory levy on plastic bags, or step aside and allow local authorities to pick up the reins.
Last week, two students from Dunedin’s Carisbrook School flew to Wellington to present a petition, signed by 3600 people, calling for a ban. Meanwhile, a second petition from a group of Wellington students calling for a mandatory levy has garnered more than 10,400 signatures.
KingsWay School students have started the One Bag at a Time initiative to educate a green culture on the HIbiscus Coast around plastic bag use. The group is also calling for a levy, and exploring the use of an accreditation for businesses using greener options.
Godoy said the argument he had heard from Environment Minister Nick Smith in the past, that action was not needed because plastic bags made up only a small percentage of the waste stream, failed to look at the facts, or the environmental impact of plastic bags.
Around the world studies found between 10 and 100 per cent of stranded turtles had plastic in their stomachs, he said.