Sea Turtles Attracted to Deadly Ocean Plastic
Loggerhead turtles may think they’re biting into a favorite food when they encounter some synthetics, a study of 15 turtles in the journal Current Biology posits. Ocean plastic is often covered with algae and other marine organisms (biofouled), making it smell delicious to them. At least 1,000 die every year because they swallow plastic or get tangled up in it. Exposed to different odors in the lab, the loggerheads responded to the smell of turtle food, distilled water, clean plastic and biofouled plastic. The team found that the turtles had similar responses to biofouled plastic as to their normal food.
Kayla Goforth, a Ph.D. student in biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who worked on the study, says, “So they have to come up to breathe. And we know that they can detect airborne odors. So when they find that there’s an odor of interest in the air, they’ll spend an increased amount of time at the surface with their nostrils out of the water. And we found that the turtles spent more time with their nostrils out of the water when there was this biofouled plastic odor or a food odor.”