A sea turtle spots a plastic bag floating among the waves. To him, it looks like a jellyfish, its general shape and consistency swaying and catching the light in just the right way. He swims toward it and ingests the bag in one gulp, satisfying his hunger, and then goes on his away. In actuality, that plastic bag lines his gut, causing digestive blockages and the sea turtle’s eventual death from starvation.
This story is all too common in the marine environment. In fact, a study estimated that more than half the world’s sea turtles and a staggering 90% of sea birds had ingested some form of plastic. Earlier this year, 13 sperm whales washed up in Germany and their necropsies revealed stomachs full of plastic waste including a 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic car engine cover and a plastic bucket. Plastic and other debris, including discarded fishing lines and nets (also called “ghost nets”), are not just ingested, but also account for thousands of casualties. Sharks, whales and mantas that get tangled up in nets either suffer life-threatening injuries from their attempts to escape or they simply remain trapped eventually drowning to death.
Four out of five Americans consider themselves to be wildlife lovers — hardly surprising, given how many millions of views the average cute animal video racks up. Yet only a small percentage of the public — less than 20 percent — knows anything about the illegal wildlife trade flourishing in the United States, according to a recent public opinion poll commissioned by WildAid.
Earlier this month, the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. CITES aims to reduce wildlife trafficking and to ensure that legal trade in wildlife products does not threaten the survival of plant and animal species.
The Machalilla National Park park rangers have just completed their fourth year of humpback whale rescues, which are often found entangled in fishing gear. So far, park rangers have saved 13 whales; including four rescues this year alone.