Survey Finds Microplastics in the Guts of All Seven Sea Turtle Species

iStock.com/RainervonBrandis
iStock.com/RainervonBrandis

Plastic is all around us—in our landfills, in our oceans, and even in the bellies of some of Earth's most vulnerable creatures. For a new paper in the journal Global Change Biology, researchers checked the guts of 102 deceased sea turtles, some of which belong to critically endangered species, and found that all of them tested positive for microplastics.

For the study, UK-based researchers from the University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and Greenpeace Research Laboratories studied turtles that had died after being stranded or accidentally caught by commercial fishing operations. All seven marine turtle species were tested, including the endangered green turtle and the critically endangered hawksbill and Kemp's ridley turtles.

The specimens were found off the coasts of North Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean, northern Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea, and Queensland, Australia in the Pacific Ocean. Necropsies revealed plastic particles under 5mm in length, while microplastic fibers were one of the most common contaminants detected in their guts. These can come from a variety of sources, including clothing, tires, cigarette filters, ropes, and fishing nets. More than 800 synthetic particles were found in the turtles. Only one section of the gut was tested in each animal, so the actual number is likely 20 times higher, according to a University of Exeter statement.

A 2015 study, also in Global Change Biology, estimated that 52 percent of all sea turtles may have ingested microplastics.

"From our work over the years, we have found microplastic in nearly all the species of marine animals we have looked at, from tiny zooplankton at the base of the marine food web to fish larvae, dolphins, and now turtles," Dr. Penelope Lindeque, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said in the statement. "This study provides more evidence that we all need to help reduce the amount of plastic waste released to our seas and maintain clean, healthy, and productive oceans for future generations."

The consequences of ingesting microplastics—via contaminated water or by eating other fish or plants—isn't currently known. The particles are small enough to pass through the gut without causing any blockages, unlike larger plastics which can—and do—wreak havoc on marine life. While the authors concluded that microplastics, at their current levels, post less of a threat than fisheries bycatch and entanglements in fishing gear, they said further studies should be conducted to determine the actual risks.

"They may possibly carry contaminants, bacteria, or viruses, or they may affect the turtle at a cellular or subcellular level," lead author Dr. Emily Duncan of the University of Exeter said. "This requires further investigation."

Dream Job Alert: You Can Live and Work in Yellowstone National Park This Fall

iStock/haveseen
iStock/haveseen

Geysers. Charismatic wildlife. Camping. A supervolcano. Yellowstone National Park is home to so many things to see and do that you’d practically have to be embedded there to experience it all. Now, some will have a unique opportunity to live and work on the grounds this fall.

For the past year, the Helping Hands program at the park has recruited applicants to stay at one of the Yellowstone National Park lodges run by the Xanterra Travel Collection. The program offers part-time, short-term park jobs for people seeking to explore Yellowstone in greater depth. Workers spend about 20 hours a week working food service, housekeeping, and other duties and are able to stay in low-cost dorm-style accommodations. Meals are provided for a small biweekly fee. The rooms don’t have many amenities—there’s no television and Wi-Fi is slow—but you certainly won't be at a loss for things to do.

The five-week program begins for two groups on September 5 and 12 and lasts through October 15. In addition to lodging, workers also receive a $10.10 hourly wage. You can submit an application at the Yellowstone National Park Lodges website.

5 Terrifyingly Huge Spiders

iStock/clauselsted
iStock/clauselsted

This week, woman in Tasmania came upon a massive huntsman spider devouring a pygmy possum at a lodge in the island's Mount Field National Park. The alarmingly huge arachnid was at least the size of a grown man's hand, and it's not the only giant spider out there. The enormous spiders below can’t be dispatched by a shoe or a rolled-up newspaper. They're sure to give you nightmares—even if you're not an arachnophobe.

1. Poecilotheria rajaei

Poecilotheria rajaei, a huge spider native to Sri Lanka
Ranil Nanayakkara/British Tarantula Society, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

This species of tarantula, discovered in northern Sri Lanka in 2013, has a leg span of 8 inches. That's roughly the size of your face! It’s part of an arboreal group called tiger spiders, which are indigenous to India and Sri Lanka. A dead male specimen of P. rajaei—which is distinguished from other tiger spiders by the markings on its legs and abdomen—was first presented to scientists in October 2009 by a local villager; a survey of the area revealed enough females and juveniles that scientists are confident they've found a new species. “They are quite rare,” Ranil Nanayakkara, co-founder of Sri Lanka’s Biodiversity Education and Research, told WIRED. “They prefer well-established old trees, but due to deforestation the number have dwindled and due to lack of suitable habitat they enter old buildings.” P. rajaei was named after a police officer who helped scientists navigate the area where it was found.

2. Theraphosa blondi

A Goliath bird-eating spider
universoaracnido, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Though Theraphosa blondi is called the Goliath bird-eating spider, it doesn’t actually eat birds. Reportedly, it got its name when an explorer saw it eating a hummingbird, but like other tarantulas, its diet consists mainly of insects, frogs, and rodents. But we’ll forgive you if you’re not comforted by that fact. After all, this spider can have a leg span nearly a foot across—the size of a dinner plate—and weigh up to 6 ounces, making it the largest spider in the world by mass. Its fangs, up to an inch long, can break human skin. (Though venomous, its poison won't bring down a human.) Native to South America, the spider makes noise by rubbing the bristles on its legs together; the sound can be heard up to 15 feet away.

3. Heteropoda maxima

A Heteropoda maxima spider
Petra & Wilifried, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Yet another reason to avoid dark caverns: Discovered in a cave in Laos in 2011, the giant huntsman spider has a leg span of 12 inches. It’s just one of over 1000 species of huntsman spider. These speedy arachnids can chase down their prey with ease and have legs that extend forward, like a crab’s.

4. Golden silk orb-weavers

These arachnids, of the genus Nephila, have a fearsome relative: the largest fossilized spider ever found is an ancestor. Females of this group of spiders, which are found around the world, can have leg spans up to 6 inches (the males are smaller). Though these orb-weavers typically eat large insects, in Australia, some of these spiders have been snapped eating snakes and birds that got caught in their strong, 5-foot-diameter webs.

5. Phoneutria nigriventer

Sure, Phoneutria nigriventer's nearly 6-inch leg span is scary—but there's something else about this spider that makes it even more terrifying: its venom, a neurotoxin that can be fatal to humans. In fact, along with P. fera, this spider is the most toxic on Earth (thankfully, a good antivenom exists). Native to Central and South America, P. nigriventer is also called the Brazilian wandering spider, for its tendency to roam the forest at night, and the banana spider, both because it hides in banana plants during the day and sometimes stows away in shipments of the fruit. When threatened, the spider lifts its front two pairs of legs and sways side to side, as you can see in the video above.

This story originally appeared in 2013.

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