Guest Post: Crowd-Sourcing Science to Save Sea Turtles

Image credit Neil Osborne, used with permission. Click for to learn more!

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is a sea turtle biologist and marine conservation activist affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences, Ocean Revolution, and the Sea Turtle Network, among others. He is a passionate defender of the oceans and you can learn more about his work at his website: LivBlue.

In August 2008, I came across a website that had it’s information about plastic and sea turtles skewed.  They seemed to be in need of a little science and experience, so I posted the following message to the global sea turtle LISTSERV*.


I recently sent an email to the folks at explaining how we have pulled plastic bags out of the cloaca of sea turtles and have found parts of bags in stomach contents over the past two decades… something that colleagues around the world have also experienced.

According to their site…”We have been unable to find another photograph of a turtle eating a plastic bag anywhere on the Internet.”

Sounds like they need our help finding more photos of wildlife and plastic bags. Feel free to share your thoughts, data and photos with them at: [email protected]. Please cc me, if you don’t mind.

Recently Randall Arauz shared a stunning series of recent photos of a green turtle in the Cocos Islands with a black plastic bag extruding from its cloaca.  They were able to remove it.  Granted, it’s not a photo of a sea turtle EATING a plastic bag, but one can certainly conclude that in order for the bag to get into the turtle’s digestive tract it was eaten.  The folks at Karumbe have shared others, as have our colleagues in Australia.



PS: the website quotes a colleague, Curt Ebbesmeyer: “If the mayor really wants to get on the stick, he should go after plastic bottles. Or plastic wrapping of food products. Or how about a tax or a ban on petroleum-based plastic, period?”  I couldn’t agree more!  Here’s to a world with less plastic (of all kinds) in our ocean (and turtles).

Green turtle with plastic bag stuck in cloaca, Costa Rica. Thanks to Randall Arauz for providing the image on a CC-license via Sea Turtle Image Library (click for source).
A couple of years later, a substantial database of images of sea turtles interacting with plastic pollution has accumulated and a new review article on the topic has been published in the Marine Turtle Newsletter.

The article and image library remain incomplete, as more data on sea turtle ingestion of plastic continues to come in from around the world, and new images are uploaded weekly. We hope the folks working to save the plastic bag will be kind enough to link to this information.

Note that to date, we have been unable to find a single photograph of a turtle (or any other animal) eating (or pooping) a reusable eco-bag anywhere on the Internet.

*Editor’s note: some extraneous text was removed from this quote for conciseness and does not change the meaning.