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OPINION: Pollution Battle – Plastic 1 Turtles 0

Saturday 26 December 2020 | Written by Te Ipukarea Society | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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OPINION: Pollution Battle – Plastic 1 Turtles 0
A (dead) young green sea turtle was found washed up on Rutaki beach by Jess Cramp earlier this week. PHOTO: Jess Cramp/20122430

The sad discovery of the washed up dead green turtle is a timely reminder of how we can better manage our waste over the festive period. By Te Ipukarea Society.

One of the insidious realities of plastic pollution has recently been confirmed on our shores.

A (dead) young green sea turtle was found washed up on Rutaki beach by Jess Cramp earlier this week.

On closer inspection, it was found that a piece of plastic had become stretched tightly across the inside of its throat.

When the plastic was pulled out by Kirby Morejohn, it was found to be a plastic bag.

Plastic bags pose one of the biggest threats to turtles, as they can confuse plastic bags for food such as jellyfish.

Once eaten by the turtle, the plastic can either suffocate the turtle, as in this case, or block up its intestine. Either way, the result is a horrible death. 

How many turtles die this way is unknown, but you can be sure that for every one that washes up on a beach, like this one, there are many more that die at sea and get eaten by sharks or sink to the bottom.

Green turtles are now commonly found cruising in and out of the passages along Rarotonga’s coastline.

Since the tourists have stopped coming these past 10 months, they have also been noticed much more frequently inside the lagoon, both in Rarotonga and in Aitutaki.  

Their presence on our shores is of great significance, particularly because green turtles are listed as ‘endangered’ in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.

This listing means that there has been a suspected reduction of at least 50 per cent of the population over the last 10 years.

Even more significant is the presence of the rare hawksbill turtles which have also found in Rarotonga’s passages, which are, listed as ‘critically endangered’ in the IUCN Red List.  

These too are susceptible to the threats of plastic pollution.

Plastic bags are not the only offender. All types of plastics pose as serious threats, including plastic straws and single use plastic wrappers which are all commonly mistaken for food. 

Abandoned fishing nets also pose another major threat as they cause turtles to drown.

The sad discovery of the washed up dead green turtle is a timely reminder of how we can better manage our waste over the festive period.

To not only keep our island clean but to also ensure we better protect those environments that we share with our wildlife.

Remember, you can be a conscious consumer.

Think about what you are buying and the afterlife of that product. Can it be reused or repurposed?

Or will it end up in the bin after one use?

Consider moving away from buying single use plastic products. Or if what you need comes in plastic, try to find the same product but in bulk size to reduce the overall possibility that plastic can enter our marine environment and cause more harm to wildlife.

If everyone on Rarotonga was a conscious consumer it can have an impact on what the importers bring into the country.  

It would encourage our local businesses to start bringing in more eco-conscious products that support a safer and healthier environment for us and those species we share it with.

For more information on how you can support turtle conservation here in the Cook Islands, check out our local Turtle Conservation Society, Te Ara O Te Onu on Facebook.