Plastic pollution is creating an “evolutionary trap” for young sea turtles because they “eat anything”, according to a new study.
Research led by the University of Exeter found plastic in the stomachs of small juvenile turtles along both the east (Pacific) and west (Indian Ocean) coasts of Australia.
The animals travel on currents and start out life in the open ocean after hatching on beaches.
But many young turtles swallow plastic as the currents accumulate vast quantities of waste.
Dr Emily Duncan, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: “Juvenile turtles have evolved to develop in the open ocean, where predators are relatively scarce.
“However, our results suggest that this evolved behaviour now leads them into a trap bringing them into highly polluted areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
“Juvenile sea turtles generally have no specialised diet they eat anything, and our study suggests this includes plastic.”
She added: “We don’t yet know what impact ingesting plastic has on juvenile turtles, but any losses at these early stages of life could have a significant impact on population levels.”
The study examined juvenile sea turtles that either washed up or were accidentally caught by fishers on the Australian coasts.