Each month, Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s (LMC) conservation team and hundreds of volunteers work diligently to collect, sort and analyze marine debris from our cleanups. In 2018, LMC launched an initiative called #StrawFreewithLMC and has since prompted public awareness to eliminate single-use plastics and thousands of straws from entering the marine environment.
Fast forward to 2020 and some things have changed, including marine debris and plastic pollution’s detriment to our beaches and marine life. Plastic in our oceans doesn’t just affect marine life, it affects humans too. Because plastic breaks down to such tiny pieces (called microplastics), it enters our food chain at the lowest level with even microscopic plankton ingesting it. Through a process of biomagnification, the plastic and toxins are absorbed and accumulated as it works through the food chain, eventually leading to us.
With more than 8 million tons of plastic entering our oceans each year, it is more important than ever to reduce our plastic usage and switch to eco-friendly alternatives.
Sorting It Out
In January, 95.2% of the 15,391 pieces of debris collected was plastic! Every month, the top five items found are consistently some variation of plastic, including hard plastic pieces, film plastic pieces, wrappers and bottle caps. During each clean up we find thousands of plastic pieces with so much more still left in the ocean.
Once plastic enters our oceans, it never goes away. Instead, it breaks down into tiny microplastic pieces, which sea turtles often ingest accidentally. Unfortunately, LMC has treated several patients that have ingested plastic, including Brody and Rudder. Not only are sea turtles harmed by ingesting plastic, which can cause choking or internal blockages, but they can also become entangled in larger pieces that raise serious physical implications. While analyzing the debris collected, we’ve even found turtle bite marks on plastic bottles.
Frequent contaminants, such as cigarette butts, may not be the first thought that comes to mind for plastic waste. However, cigarette butts are constantly present during our beach cleanups with hundreds counted each month. For instance, Turtle Tuesday Beach Cleanups in 2019 collected 416 cigarette butts, making it the fourth most common item. The majority of cigarettes manufactured worldwide come with filters made of cellulose acetate, a form of plastic. To prevent further debris, LMC has installed cigarette ash receptacles on all piers involved in the Center’s Responsible Pier Initiative.
Discarded fishing lines and rope also pose a potential risk of entanglement for sea turtles and other marine life. If a sea turtle becomes entangled they could suffer constriction wounds, infections and possible amputations. Additionally, ingesting discarded lines can cause internal damage, the inability to swim, or potential drowning since sea turtles need to surface to breathe. Many of our patients have been affected by fishing lines and/or rope, including Today, who passed fishing lines shortly after entering our hospital.
Make Waves Of Change
One of the easiest ways to reduce your plastic use is to seek sustainable packaging! A few weeks ago, we were able to discuss sustainable alternatives for food packaging to the clothing you wear thanks to the co-owners of One World Zero Waste. Remember to bring reusable bags whenever you shop. Plastic bags resemble jellyfish, a main source of food for sea turtles, which causes them to mistakenly ingest them. Last year, LMC removed over 5,000 pieces of film plastic (plastic bags) during our Turtle Tuesday Beach Cleanups. So bring your own reusable produce bags/containers, and only purchase what you need!
Also consider reducing your use of single-use plastic items like straws, bottles and bags. Americans use millions of plastic straws a day so getting in the habit of bringing your own reusable straw, or refusing, can greatly reduce the number of straws entering our oceans. Investing in a reusable water bottle is also a great way to cut down on plastic water bottles being improperly discarded and entering our oceans.
Support LMC and global conservation! You are making a difference whether it’s joining our beach cleanups, promoting our mission to help save sea turtles, or encouraging others to live more sustainably.
Loggerhead Marinelife Center. Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) is a nonprofit sea turtle research, rehabilitation and educational institution that promotes conservation of ocean ecosystems with a focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles. The Center features an on-site hospital, research laboratory, educational exhibits and aquariums, and also operates the Juno Beach Pier, which hosts world-class angling and sightseeing. Situated on one of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches, Loggerhead Marinelife Center is open daily and hosts over 360,000 guests free-of-charge each year. The Center’s conservation team works with 90 local and international organizations across six continents to form partnerships and share conservation initiatives and best practices that are core to its mission of ocean conservation. The Center is expanding and has launched its Waves of Progress capital expansion campaign, designed to accelerate and amplify LMC’s conservation and education impact. For more information, visit www.marinelife.org or call (561) 627-8280.