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.