A baby loggerhead turtle washed up on a Florida beach dying of starvation after having swallowed 104 pieces of plastic.
The palm-sized turtle was found weak and emaciated on a beach in Boca Raton. The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center posted a photo of the dead turtle and the plastic pieces found in its stomach.
"It was really heartbreaking," turtle rehabilitation assistant Emily Mirowski told CNN after attempting to rescue the turtle. "But it's something we've seen for several years and we're just glad people are finally seeing this image, and hopefully it's raising awareness."
Scientists say dozens of juvenile turtles starve to death after swallowing microplastics each year. After hatching between March and October, babies swim to sargassum, a type of floating brown seaweed, where they live for several years.
But the shelter that sargassum used to offer the baby turtles has turned deadly as the seaweed also collects microplastics, Mirowski explained.
"The issue is that with all the plastic in the oceans, that's where the plastic sticks. All the microplastics stick to the seaweed, and it looks like food to the baby turtles," she said.
With bellies full of plastic, the turtles don't feel hungry enough to eat and consequently don't get the nutrients they need to survive.
According to CNN, dozens of baby turtles that have washed back up on the shore this season have all had plastic in their stomachs. Washbacks, as they are called, have become so common that the nature center placed a box outside for residents to safely drop off the baby turtles for rehabilitation.
"We give them a small amount of fluids every day to get them hydrated. Then we hope they'll pass the plastic naturally. The important thing is getting them hydrated to get their appetite back," Mirowski said, noting that not all of the turtles survive.
Mirowski said the only way to prevent these deaths is to reduce plastic consumption and dispose of plastics properly. She said the issue is "not just recycling, but eliminating plastic out of daily use."
"Every piece of plastic that's ever been made is still out there. It never goes away, it just breaks down to smaller pieces," she said.