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Polymer Identification of Plastic Debris Ingested by Pelagic-Phase Sea Turtles in the Central Pacific

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journal contribution
posted on 12.09.2018, 00:00 by Melissa R. Jung, George H. Balazs, Thierry M. Work, T. Todd Jones, Sara V. Orski, Viviana Rodriguez C., Kathryn L. Beers, Kayla C. Brignac, K. David Hyrenbach, Brenda A. Jensen, Jennifer M. Lynch
Pelagic Pacific sea turtles eat relatively large quantities of plastic (median 5 g in gut). Using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, we identified the polymers ingested by 37 olive ridley, 9 green, and 4 loggerhead turtles caught as bycatch in Hawaii- and American Samoa-based longline fisheries. Unidentifiable samples were analyzed using high-temperature size exclusion chromatography with multiple detectors and/or X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. Regardless of species differences in dive depths and foraging strategies, ingested plastics were primarily low-density, floating polymers (51% low-density polyethylene (LDPE), 26% polypropylene (PP), 10% unknown polyethylene (PE), and 5% high-density PE collectively). Albeit not statistically significant, deeper diving and deeper captured olive ridley turtles ate proportionally more plastics expected to sink (3.9%) than intermediate-diving green (1.2%) and shallow-diving loggerhead (0.3%) turtles. Spatial, but no sex, size, year, or hook depth differences were observed in polymer composition. LDPE and PP, some of the most produced and least recycled polymers worldwide, account for the largest percentage of plastic eaten by sea turtles in this region. These novel data inform managers about the threat of plastic ingestion to sea turtles and may motivate development of more environmentally friendly practices for plastic production, use, and waste management.

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