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How Many Turtles Die A Year From Plastic Pollution?

Turtles and plastic do not have a pleasant relationship. These marine creatures have been around long before the invention of plastic. However, the synthetic material is taking over their homes. This begs us to question, how many turtles die a year from plastic?

This article explores the statistics of turtle fatalities around the world. It also discusses in detail the effect of plastic pollution on marine turtles. 

Related Read: Turtle Facts.

What is plastic pollution?  

plastic pollution
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.

Plastic pollution is a global problem. The world produces an average of 430 million tonnes of plastic annually. We use about 36% of the plastic produced as product packaging, while 46% of the plastic waste is in landfills. 

Of the 46% sent to the landfill, 22% becomes litter, 17% turns to ash, and 15% gets recycled. Plastics are one of the most persistent environmental pollutants and a major threat2 to the environment’s safety.

Once plastic products enter the environment, they break into small particles and are not biodegradable. Plastics do not decompose, even after exposure to natural elements over 100 years. 

They wreck the environment continuously over an extended period. The terrestrial and marine environments are under various threats from plastic pollution. It's killing flora, fauna, animals, and organisms. It destroys food and water quality. 

Plastic littering the environment reduces the ecosystem’s ability to combat climate change and global warming. It also leads to the crumbling of socioeconomic systems. 

Read more: Plastic Pollution Facts & Statistics.

How many sea turtles die from plastic pollution? 

brown sea turtle
Photo by Olga ga on Unsplash.

We are well aware of how plastic debris kills sea turtles. Let’s examine the death toll of sea turtles better to understand the dangers of plastic pollution around the world. 

Research shows over one million sea creatures die each year from plastic pollution. According to studies, thousands of marine turtles die yearly. Researchers arrived at this number based on beach strandings1. There are many strandings due to plastic from the fishing industry. Turtles are strong swimmers, but they subsequently drown because of the heavy weight of fishing gear. They also die because of invasive species and chemicals leaching from plastic. 

Impact of plastic pollution on sea turtles?   

Previously, we mentioned that plastic disrupts the ecosystem drastically. It affects all marine life forms, plants, and animals alike. Sea turtles are one of the most affected marine animals. They are rapidly becoming an endangered species. Here are some alarming ways plastic pollution is killing sea turtles.


floating plastics
Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash.

Sea turtles often mistake plastic debris for food. So they end up ingesting plastic bags, discarded fishing gear, and other plastic packaging dumped in the world’s oceans. The Galapagos green turtle species commonly ingest plastic bags because they resemble their favorite food, the jellyfish. 

Sea turtle species die from plastic ingestion because it causes fatal blockage in their digestive system. Their appetite reduces drastically, and they become malnourished as they cannot eat as they used to. Researchers estimate that 52% of all sea turtles have ingested plastic3.

Records show sea turtle species in the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea ingest microplastics. Adult turtles and young turtles are susceptible to plastic debris. Apart from eating a plastic bag directly, a sea turtle can eat pieces of plastic accidentally. 

Accidental ingestion occurs when pieces of plastic are mixed with food items. Research showed that a green turtle ingests plastic because it is attached to macroalgae, an aquatic plant they consume.

A sea turtle can also eat plastic waste indirectly from the food chain. Turtles eat other marine animals like mollusks and crustaceans. Plastic can enter their digestive tract when they eat marine life that has consumed plastic. 

It is often difficult to quantify and identify the harm caused by indirect consumption like this. However, you can see the pain from the turtle in this viral video where a team of scientists spent ten minutes pulling a plastic straw out of an olive ridley sea turtle.


entangled sea turtle
Photo by NOAA Marine Debris Programon on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Entanglement in marine debris also contributes to the killing of turtles. Plastics are serious threats to turtle's safety. They often get stuck in discarded fish gear like fishing nets and other plastic rubbish, especially in the Mediterranean and Northern Australian seas. 

Getting tangled in plastic hurts turtles. It leads to injuries, abrasions, and loss of limbs. Getting caught in a web of discarded fishing gear or polyethylene packaging twine reduces their swimming abilities, making it difficult for them to escape predators. 

It also makes it difficult for them to forage for food, causing them to die from starvation. A study conducted in 2013 shows that 80% of the animals lost in nets off the Australian coast are turtles.

Nesting areas  

plastics on sand
Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.

Nesting beaches are areas where turtles find safety during the breeding season, rising sea levels, and coastal development. Plastic trash accumulates on the sandy beach, especially in closed-off coastal areas. 

The accumulated plastic is a serious threat to many turtles, especially to the nesting female turtles, their eggs, and hatchlings. Plastic pollution at the nesting site might cause them to return to the water without laying their eggs.

A large piece of plastic in the sand can also prevent turtle eggs from hatching because it traps them below the surface. Plastics obstruct juvenile turtles from entering the ocean. Young turtles must enter the water as soon as possible after hatching. Plastic trash on the beach disorientates them, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

How do you save sea turtles from plastic debris? 

It is up to us to stop the toxic relationship between turtles and plastic. Without humans, there wouldn’t be various types of plastics like single-use plastic packaging. Here are many ways of protecting sea turtles: 

  1. Reduce plastic pollution by using reusable containers. Instead of using plastic straws, get paper or metal straws
  2. Drop all plastic materials in the recycling bin to increase the chances of your local recycling center getting it.  
  3. Participate in coastal and beach clean-ups. Removing a piece of plastic from the ocean goes a long way in saving the life of a sea turtle or fish. It protects their nesting site and reduces the chances of the trash entering the food chain. 
  4. Always carry reusable water bottles and shopping bags. 
  5. Avoid releasing balloons into the atmosphere because they will mostly end up in the ocean and harm marine wildlife. Sea turtles often mistake balloons for food. Instead, explore balloon alternatives.
  6. The fishing industry should not dump discarded fishing items in the ocean. Never abandon your fishing hooks, net, and lines in the water.  
  7. Raise awareness about the dangers of plastic to the global turtle population numbers. Raising awareness is one of the best ways to protect sea turtles. The more people are aware of the danger, the more people will work on eliminating it. 
  8. Beach lights should be off to protect nesting female turtles and hatchlings. Female turtles nest in the dark, and bright lights might disorient and misdirect new hatchlings. 
  9. Volunteer at turtle conservation and protection programs. You can volunteer at the Ecology Project International and build a brighter, more sustainable future with them.


Plastic pollution is dangerous to all life forms, especially turtles. We should avoid littering the beach with plastic straws, nylons, and containers. It breaks into small pieces, enters the ocean, and harms sea turtles. 

You can make a change by reducing your plastic usage. Also, recycle plastic products and endeavor to join conservation projects near you.


Duncan, E. M., Botterell, Z. L. R., Broderick, A. C., Galloway, T. S., Lindeque, P. K., Nuño, A., & Godley, B. J. (2017). A global review of marine turtle entanglement in anthropogenic debris: a baseline for further action. Endangered Species Research, 34, 431–448.


OECD. (2022). Global Plastics Outlook: Economic Drivers, Environmental Impacts and Policy Options.


Nelms, S. E., Duncan, E. M., Broderick, A. C., Galloway, T. S., Godfrey, M. H., Hamann, M., Lindeque, P. K., & Godley, B. J. (2015). Plastic and marine turtles: a review and call for research. Ices Journal of Marine Science, 73(2), 165–181.

By Jennifer Okafor, BSc.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Fact Checked By:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

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