Myanmar’s already threatened turtle hatchlings are now facing the hazard of washed-up plastic. Bottle caps and coffee sachets provide a hurdle as the newborn turtles make their way from the beach to the safety of the sea.
Myanmar’s turtle hatchlings already face problems such as avoiding being harvested as eggs and enduring soaring nest temperatures. Now, the troubled newborns must clamber over plastic debris as they make their journey down the beach to the sea.
As a new study conducted by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Thant Myanmar has shown, the beaches are at the delta of the Irrawaddy river, which transports 119 tons of plastic pollution every day. The findings show that the upper Irrawaddy regions contribute 58 tons of plastic pollution per day, with the lower delta region and Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, adding a further 32 tons and 29 tons respectively, according to a statement.
Mismanaged plastic waste makes up most of the pollution, with the most commonly encountered items made from hard plastic – mainly bottle caps. Soft plastics including food packaging, polystyrene foam and single-use sachets make up the rest.
According to the research, marine habitats around Myanmar are also heavily polluted by microplastics. Concentrations can reach up to 28,000 particles per square kilometer. Such high microplastic pollution levels can pose an even greater threat to turtle hatchlings, who are known to eat microplastics if they swim through polluted waters, says FFI.
Myanmar’s coasts are home to five species of marine turtle. In 1911, thousands of turtles nested in the country’s delta region. Today, nesting females are confined to double figures.
U Zau Lunn, Marine and Freshwater Programme Manager at FFI, commented in the statement: “We know the plastic pollution crisis is a global crisis but this is the first time we have quantified Myanmar’s contribution to this crisis. We must work with policymakers to find solutions that tackle plastic pollution at its source so we can stop this pollution damaging our coastal ecosystems.”
Photo credit: Jeroen Looyé/ CC BY-SA 2.0