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Plastic measures: Report lays out dangers plastics pose to marine life

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Cape Cod Times, November 2020

When Dr. Charles Innis, the lead veterinarian at the New England Aquarium, cut into a 400-pound leatherback sea turtle that had washed up dead on Sandy Neck in November of 2015, he was looking for cause of its demise, signs of disease or parasites. What the necropsy team encountered was a 3-foot-square sheet of plastic lodged in its stomach. 

By any measure, this turtle had experienced the worst that mankind could dish out. Shell deformities and X-rays revealed extensive fractures of the shell and vertebrae from a collision with a vessel. Heavy abrasions and lacerations around the front flippers indicated it had been entangled in fishing gear and that was believed to be the likely cause of death. But the plastic, which when floating in the water resembles the jellyfish that are the leatherback’s favorite food, would have killed it eventually by blocking its intestine, Innis concluded. 

From plastic netting and lines, down to the tiniest nanoplastics that can be eaten by zooplankton and enter the food chain, our seemingly endless seas are choking on plastic, and so are the animals who live there, according to a report released Thursday by the international ocean advocacy nonprofit Oceana.

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