Marine workers were shocked to discover seven plastic bags in the digestive system of a rare sea turtle found dead on the coast of Almeria.
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) was found dead on a beach in the municipality of Nijar in the south-eastern Spanish province of Almeria last week.
Eva Maria Moron, coordinator at the marine animal rescue centre Equinac, told Real Press in an exclusive interview that “we were called by the emergency services about the presence of a dead turtle on the beach”.
Eva Maria and other centre workers collected the dead leatherback sea turtle, listed as ‘vulnerable on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and carried out an autopsy at facilities in the University of Almeria.
She said: “We suspected it might have died due to plastic in its system.”
However, Eva Maria said she was left stunned when they found the turtle’s digestive system “full of plastic”.
She added: “One part of its digestive system had a huge intestinal obstruction caused by plastic bags that led to its death, it blocked everything.”
Plastic packaging of a detergent sold in Morocco was also found inside the turtle, according to Eva Maria.
She told Real Press: “It is the first time we have seen something like this as other turtles have been found with plastic in their organs. We have found parts of irrigation pipes, filters, microplastics, but nothing like this, entire plastic bags, it was terrible.”
Eva Maria explained that turtles often confuse plastic bags floating in the sea as jellyfish, their main source of food.
She said: “Turtles eat everything they can find, but the main problem is that they have a system that does not allow them to vomit anything bad they have eaten. So if they eat a bag, they cannot expel it and it ends up in their body.”
It is believed the turtle was so clogged up with plastic that it was unable to defecate, resulting in its death on the beach.
The centre posted a video of the autopsy showing the green bags being pulled out of the turtle to make people aware of the importance of not using plastic bags.
Eva Maria said: “Plastic bags should be banned, especially in supermarkets where they are still sold despite the plastic problem all over the world.”
The leatherback sea turtle is considered the biggest marine turtle in the world and reaches lengths of 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) and weights of up to 600 kilogrammes (94 stone).
However, it is uncommon to see them around south-eastern Spain.
So far this year, nine turtles of different species have been treated at the Equinac centre.