Monday, August 31, 2009

Leatherbacks' Plastic A' la carte

This summer North Carolinians who go through great pains to protect the sea turtles and their babies had a unique experience. A leatherback, not known for laying eggs in NC, laid her eggs 70 days ago on the Outer Banks shore. Last week Jackie Orsulak, a volunteer for NEST (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles), was there for the arrival of some 60 plus hatchlings and recorded the fantastic experience of the them "boiling" out of the sand only to leave their tracks in the sand to the sea.

Essentially unchanged for 110 million years, sea turtles are prehistoric creatures, meaning they've survived the Ice Age and every other major environmental shift since their existence. Leatherbacks are among the oldest creatures on earth and are now on the critically endangered list worldwide. Sadly, one of the major reasons for their demise is our plastic marine debris, according to Dalhousie University's Mike James, who co-authored a recent article in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin entitled "Leatherback turtles: The menace of plastic." Since leatherbacks prefer eating jellyfish, its widely believed they mistake bags or other plastics for their meals.

James looked back at necropsies over the last century from all over the world and after reviewing the results of 371 necropsies since 1968, we discovered over one third of the turtles had ingested plastic. Check it out, plastics marine debris is responsible for the demise of one of our oldest creatures on Earth.

Look at these little baby leatherbacks and think how many will mistake plastic bags for their number one food - jellyfish. A simple change in our disposal of plastics could help change the fate of these majestic animals. Let's hope there is still time. Here is a photo of one turtle and it's plastic contents. The image retrieved from


  1. Hi Bonnie,

    Thank you for this post. I have commented on one of your other posts. As a WB Sea Turtle Project volunteer, I am very concerned about how much plastics are affecting all species of Sea Turtles. I also volunteer at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle hospital where more and more sick and injured turtles are being treated.

    It is definitely time to make changes in the way we consume and dispose of plastic.

    Thank you for your research and your passion. Safe travels.

    Ginger Taylor

  2. Ginger,

    Thank you for all that you do! I have seen with my own eyes both the impact of plastics on the sea turtles as well as the impact of good people like yourself that have an up hill battle on the front line trying to help these beautiful animals. We need to keep up the outreach because I do believe that once people are aware of the damage the use of much of our plastic does, the sooner they'll change their habits. Best to you and to the Jean Beasley group that do so much on so little funding.

  3. Hi Bonnie
    Thank you for all you do and please be safe on your next adventure. I cannot wait to see what you will be posting on this blog.


  4. Thanks Paul, it's going to get crazy for sure.