Pieces of trash found in a young green sea turtle in Thailand. Photo courtesy of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources / Facebook
When rescuers found a young and weak green sea turtle washed up on a Thai beach at the end of last month, they did not expect to find 158 pieces of mainly plastic — totaling 60 grams — in its minuscule stomach. Tests later revealed the turtle had an obstruction in its intestines, believed to have been caused by the build up of sea litter, which was spotted in X-rays. The shreds of plastic were collected from its feces — more than half of which were small pieces from plastic bags. More may be found.
Weak and malnourished, it is now able to eat on its own, and is being fed through a feeding tube, according to those caring for it on the island of Phuket. But its survival is not guaranteed. Though barely bigger than a potato, the turtle was so overwhelmed by the amount of trash that it fell ill and lost weight as it couldn’t consume natural food.
Thailand is one of the biggest contributors of marine pollution in the world, and critics say its waste sorting and management systems have long been insufficient. Some 12 to 13 percent of the roughly 27 million tons of waste Thailand produces each year consist of plastic. About 30,000 to 40,000 tons of that plastic waste ends up in the country’s oceans annually, said Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, a researcher from the Phuket Marine Biological Centre.“In order to actively reduce the consequences of trash and marine waste, we need to reduce plastic use at its source,” Kongkiat told VICE World News on Thursday morning following reports of the turtle’s plight on the island of Phuket.
“Users, meaning us citizens, need to be aware of how much plastic we use. We should only use what is necessary,” he added.
In 2020, Thailand kicked off a war against plastic — starting with a ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores. It was the first step towards improving the country’s long-term waste management plan. Authorities also planned on banning other single-use items including cap seals, straws and polystyrene food containers. When the pandemic hit just months into last year, however, those plans ran up against the focus on controlling the outbreak. There was a massive surge in trash from food containers in delivery meals and material from medical facilities.This contributed to a 15 percent increase in plastic waste nationwide that year. The capital Bangkok alone saw a 60 percent surge, according to the Thailand Environment Institute Foundation, a think-tank.Unfortunately this is not the first time a marine creature has made headlines in the country after being found with trash choking its stomach.In 2018, a dead whale washed ashore in the southern province of Songkhla with 8 kilograms of plastic inside. A year later, the kingdom was shaken again when a young dugong — who quickly gained internet stardom after being rescued — died from an infection exacerbated by bits of plastic lining her stomach. Follow Teirra Kamolvattanavith on Twitter.