A new survey has revealed yet another hurdle facing Myanmar’s already-threatened turtle hatchlings: plastic. As if avoiding being harvested as eggs and enduring soaring nest temperatures were not enough, these helpless newborns must now clamber over washed-up plastic bottle caps, coffee sachets and food packaging on their hazardous journey down the beach to reach the relative safety of the sea.
The beaches in question are located at the delta of the Irrawaddy river, which, according to the recent survey conducted by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and Thant Myanmar, transports a shocking 119 tons of plastic pollution every day.
The findings show that the upper Irrawaddy regions contribute 58 tons of plastic pollution per day, with the lower delta region and Yangon, Myanmar’s capital, adding a further 32 tons and 29 tons respectively. The majority of plastic found in the river is likely to be mismanaged plastic waste. The most commonly encountered items were made from hard plastic, mainly comprising bottle caps. Soft plastics including food packaging, polystyrene foam and single-use sachets made up the rest.
The research also found that the amount of plastic pollution in the river is 17 times greater during the rainy season compared to the dry season. With the rains, accumulated plastic pollution caught in the river’s banks is mobilised and washes downstream.
Marine habitats around Myanmar – especially in the Bay of Bengal – are also heavily polluted by microplastics. A study conducted by the Fridtjof Nansen research vessel recently found that concentrations can reach up to 28,000 particles per square kilometre. Such high microplastic pollution levels can pose an even greater threat to turtle hatchlings, who are known to eat microplastics if they swim through polluted waters.