Half of the sea turtles on the planet have ingested some form of plastic, according to a new study. This comes just days after another study (with some of the same researchers involved) reported similar findings in seabirds – some 90 percent of which have consumed plastic.

The new study, led by Qamar Schuyler of the University of Queensland and published in Global Change Biology, estimates that 52 percent of sea turtles worldwide have eaten plastic debris, some 13 million tons of which is dumped into the ocean every year. The east coasts of Australia and North America, Southeast Asia, southern Africa and Hawaii seem to be particularly dangerous. Schuyler used a combination of predictive models and actual necroscopy evidence to reach his conclusions.

First, Schuyler said, his team made a model of marine plastic distribution based on found debris. Then they overlaid the distribution of turtle populations over this model, to see how much debris species would likely encounter. Published sea turtle necroscopies were then factored in, to see how likely it was for turtles to ingest certain amounts of plastic based on the congestion of plastic in their area.

According to Schuyler’s research, we need to protect these creatures from more than just poachers – we need to protect them from our trash.

“Turtles can be killed directly by ingesting plastics, through blockage of the intestines or through piercing of the intestinal wall,” Schuyler said. They can also die because of toxic chemicals that were used to create the plastic, or that were absorbed during the plastic’s journey through the ocean.

Perhaps most distressingly, turtles can starve to death because they feel full after swallowing plastic debris.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.