Written by Neha Karl

When waste isn’t disposed of carefully, it can find its way into rivers and oceans. This human made litter can be very harmful for marine animals, including sea turtles.

There are seven threatened species of marine turtle and we have six of them here in Australia. One of the threats to turtle species is marine debris – waste that humans throw away that has made its way into the ocean. Waste affects turtles in two ways – either they mistake it for food, or they get tangled up in it.

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been lost or abandoned at sea.These nets continue to travel through the ocean, trapping and entangling turtles. These nets are very hard to escape from and can drift in the ocean for decades, catching protected turtles and other marine species.

Scientists from CSIRO are working with GhostNets Australia and Indigenous rangers to identify areas where turtles are most at risk. The researchers use models based on ocean currents to identify areas that are likely to have a high number of ghost nets in the Gulf of Carpentaria and to find out where turtles are most likely to get caught up in these nets. The team is also working with schools and citizen scientists to survey beaches for litter. The data will help them identify where efforts to clean up nets and marine debris will have the greatest impact.

CSIRO’s Dr Denise Hardesty is leading the research and says, “The best way to tackle marine debris is to stop it from entering our oceans. Together we can all make a difference.” Simple things such as recycling and picking up litter can go a long way in protecting the future of marine turtles!

The national marine debris work is a partnership funded by Shell and supported by Earthwatch Australia.

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