The tests carried out on more than one hundred sea turtles from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and in the Mediterranean Sea, revealed that all of them had microplastics in their stomachs, according to a study published today.
"The ingestion of plastics is not the greatest threat in the species, but its presence in each of the turtles is worrisome," said Mark Hamman, of James Cook University (JCU), who participated in the study.
The scientists found about 800 synthetic particles in the 102 turtles analyzed but their number could be 20 times as they only analyzed a part of the stomach of these animals, according to a statement from the JCU.
The turtles with a greater amount of synthetic particles were those from the Mediterranean, according to the study published in the Global Change Biology magazine, which was led by the University of Exeter and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with Greenpeace.
Hamman remarked that the effects on turtles of ingesting microplastics is unknown but pointed out that the youngest specimens would be the most vulnerable.
The microplastics come from the breakage of large pieces -such as bags or bottles- or from exfoliating creams, gels, toothpaste and detergents, or from clothing fibers, tires, cigar filters, fishing nets and that are so small that can not be eliminated by water treatment.
"Their tiny size means that they enter the stomach without causing a blockage, as happens with large pieces," said study leader Emily Duncan of the University of Exeter, who pointed to a more subtle possible effect of microplastics.
"They may transport contaminants, bacteria or viruses, or affect the turtle at the cellular or subcellular level," the biologist added.
Experts still do not know how these synthetic particles enter turtles although they consider probable ways to contaminate sea water and sediments, or through the intake of prey or plants.
According to the UN, eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year, threatening marine and human life and destroying natural ecosystems.