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Pollution, trash threaten the Okinawa long turtle

Date Posted: 2009-05-14

Human carelessness is threatening the future of the Okinawa long turtle, with increasing numbers of plastic bags, cups and other trash attracting the turtles as they swim in area waters.

The Okinawa Expo Memorial Park Management Office says the turtles see the plastic floating in the water and begin eating it, thinking it is their favorite jellyfish. “We haven’t gotten any dead turtles yet, but we did rescue a turtle,” says a Park Management Office official, “and saw from their droppings inside that there were pieces of plastic bags and strings.”

The official said the problem isn’t limited to turtles, but that they’ve “found a plastic bag inside a dolphin’s stomach, and a whale shark’s stomach had a milk cup made of plastic inside.” The shark is dead, the official said, having choked on the cup. “Right now there is news coming from around the world about turtles found dead on the beach,” the Memorial Park Office says, “and 40% of the dead turtles’ stomachs have plastic bags inside. Turtles eat jellyfish, and when the plastic bags are floating on the ocean, turtles think they are jellyfish.”

The long turtle grows to be two meters long, weighing 900 kilograms. The turtles have weak shells though, relying on only a relatively strong skin for protection. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says too many turtles are being hunted by humans, and if it continues, they will become extinct. A problem with the long turtle dying out, the IUCN says, is that without turtles to control them, a jellyfish outbreak will occur.

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