Sea Turtles Mistake Plastic in the Ocean for Food and Consume it

New research says that some sea turtles cannot differentiate between the smell of plastic and the smell of food. A wide extent of various marine creatures come across the massive amount of plastic waste that is thrown by people in the oceans. They sometimes eat it, not being able to identify the difference between it and food, and most often, they are trapped in it and end up dying because of it.

As per the team of researchers, a chemical generated by plastic that been sitting in the water is also emitted by phytoplankton, which is a food source for marine animals. A group of 15 captive loggerhead turtles in tanks were subjected to a handful of various scents, including the scent of water, of food such as shrimp and of new and also ocean-found plastic, the study published on Monday in the journal Current Biology says.

Plastic is Mistaken for Food

Most of the time, turtles ignored the scent of water and clean plastic. Still, when the team of researchers puffed air comprising scents of either food or ocean-collected plastic, the animals enhanced their sniffing above water, which is a regular foraging pattern.

“We found that loggerhead sea turtles respond to odors from bio-fouled plastics in the same way they respond to food odorants, suggesting that turtles may be attracted to plastic debris not only by the way it looks but by the way it smells,” said Joseph Pfaller of the University of Florida, Gainesville, in a statement. “This ‘olfactory trap’ might help explain why sea turtles ingest and become entangled in plastic so frequently.”

“These are important and troubling pieces to the puzzle, and all plastics pose dangers to turtles,” he added.

The research, “Odors from marine plastic debris elicit foraging behavior in sea turtles,”​ was conducted by lead author Joe Pfaller from the Caretta Research Project in Savannah, Georgia.​

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