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Tar and Trash Invading Sea Turtle Habitats

In May 2002, FWRI research scientist Blair Witherington was interviewed by Kevin Pierce of The Florida Environment, a radio feature that is broadcast over a network of Florida radio stations. He talked about his travels researching neonate loggerheads off the east coast of Florida and the surprising amount of litter and tar he encountered in the Gulf Stream habitats of the baby turtles.

Broken matter

According to Witherington's recent paper, "Ecology of neonate loggerhead turtles inhabiting lines of downwelling near a Gulf Stream front," gastric-esophageal lavages performed by Witherington and his research team revealed plastic in 15 percent of the turtles and tar in 20 percent of the turtles.

Some of the turtles had swallowed enough tar to gum their mouths shut.

This health risk occurs due to the fact that baby sea turtles spend the first years of their lives in floating seagrass islands that accumulate in frontal zones near the Gulf Stream. These zones collect more than the nutrients turtles need to grow.

Blue water with blue sky reflective

Decreasing the amount of tar and trash invading ocean habitats is not a problem that has an easy solution. International waters mean international trash. Witherington says he hopes the baby sea turtle can serve as a "poster child" of sorts to demonstrate the importance of cutting back on the amount of litter contaminating ocean habitats.

Read more about Blair Witherington's neonate studies in Researching the First Years of a Turtle's Life.