Why Do Turtles Eat Straws? [Why It’s Bad And How To Prevent It]

Image of a turtle eating plastic

Plastic is considered to be one of the significant contributors to marine debris, while plastic straws are the ones that affect aquatic turtles a lot. Straws that are often thrown as wastage end up in the oceans or seas. The aquatic turtles then invariably end up eating these straws. But why do turtles eat straws?

Turtles eat straws because they mistake them for food. Consumption of straws is a big threat to turtles as it causes indigestion and choking. Straws can also get entangled in the turtle’s nasal cavity and cause health problems. Straws do not biodegrade for decades and are a threat to marine life.

Leave aside turtles, millions of wild creatures get affected every year due to plastic intake. So, let’s now understand what role straws play in affecting turtles’ well-being.

Why Are Plastic Straws Bad For Turtles?

Plastic is unarguably the primary reason that adversely affects sea creatures. Plastic straws not only pollute the beaches and toxify the land, but they also affect the innocent turtles. According to the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, straws are one of the top 10 most commonly littered items.

Plastic straws do not biodegrade for decades. Instead, these straws break down into smaller pieces. Also, straws cannot be recycled as they are made from Type 5 plastic or polypropylene. Hence, straws that are disposed of as trash end up polluting the oceans.

Turtles mistake straws for food and end up eating them. Sometimes, the straws also get entangled in their nostrils. Straws that look tiny do more harm than we can imagine. They are sharp and injure the poor turtles’ noses.

Turtles choke after consuming straws. Also, turtles get a false sense of a filled stomach due to excessive consumption of plastic straws. They then don’t eat the required amount of food needed for their livelihood. This leads to malnutrition and starvation and sometimes even becomes a reason for their death.

Besides, plastic straws swallowed by turtles can cause intestinal blockage, which can result in a reduced growth rate. Hatchlings and young turtles are more vulnerable to plastic straws.

Besides, turtles that have consumed a considerable amount of plastic straws float on water as their stomach gets bloated due to the plastic intake. Floating turtles are vulnerable as they are easy prey for predators.

Ingestion of plastic straws also causes buoyancy issues in turtles. Buoyancy disorder can hinder turtles’ growth as they find it difficult to submerge themselves in water. It can also affect reproduction rates.

Alright! That was about adult turtles, but have you ever wondered about how plastic affects baby hatchlings that are yet to live their lives?

How Do Plastic Straws Affect Turtle Hatchlings?

Baby hatchlings are more susceptible and are at a greater risk of getting affected by plastic straws. Baby hatchlings spend their first year in the seaweed mats on the ocean. These seaweed mats are a source of their food and also shelter them from predators.

Plastic straws can get trapped in these seaweed mats after breaking down into microplastics. Ignorant hatchlings then end up eating these microplastics, mistaking them for food.

Also, young turtles sometimes get entangled in the seaweed mats that are covered with microplastics. This leads to suffocation as they are unable to breathe air.

Now that you know plastic straws are hazardous to turtles, let’s also understand if turtles can die due to plastic straws.

Recommended Further Reading:

Do Turtles Die From Plastic Straws?

Turtles can die due to the ingestion of plastic straws. Few people realize that plastic straws are hazardous, and so they throw them away as trash. Since straws are non-degradable, they break-down into smaller pieces known as microplastics over a period of time. When turned into microplastics, it becomes next to impossible to clean them from beaches and oceans.

Turtles do not realize that plastic straws are hazardous and end up consuming them. These plastic straws then bloat the turtles’ stomachs. Turtles feel that their stomach is full and do not eat other food. This leads to malnutrition, starvation, and ultimately becomes a reason for their death.

Another reason for turtles’ death is that the microplastics get eaten by other smaller marine creatures. These smaller creatures then get eaten up by the turtles. This cycle is never-ending and ends up causing a lot of harm to turtles.

Besides, plastic straws can get entangled in turtles’ nose and cause injury. If a straw gets tangled for a prolonged duration, it can lead to turtles’ death. Also, eating plastic straws choke turtles and can prove fatal.

Okay! So far, we have seen how bad plastic straws are for turtles, but how do straws get in turtles’ nostrils in the first place?

How Do Straws Get In A Turtle’s Nose?

Straws often end up as marine debris because we either accidentally leave them on the beaches or strong winds blow them out of uncovered trash cans, boats, and other vehicles that cruise through the water. All drains also ultimately lead to the sea.

These straws end up floating in the seawater. On seeing these floating straws, turtles and other marine creatures usually mistake them for food.

Just like humans, turtles have a passageway for food in their bodies. When we puke, the undigested food comes out of our nose. Similarly, when the turtle realizes that the straws it has eaten are not food, it tries to throw them back. In this process, the straws come out of its nostrils and thus get lodged in the turtle’s nose.

Plastic straws are a severe threat to all marine wildlife. So, is there any alternative to plastic straws?

Related Further Reading:

How Do Metal Straws Help Turtles?

The trend of using metal straws began after a video of someone pulling a plastic straw from a turtle’s nose went viral. The plastic straws were then looked upon as a threat to the existence of turtles. Millions of marine wildlife get affected every year due to the ingestion or entanglement of plastic straws.

Plastic straws certainly affect turtles, but the percentage of straws is merely 0.025 compared to the overall plastic flow into the ocean.

Now, since plastic straws can prove lethal to turtles, metal straws are looked upon as an alternative. The use of metal straws is an effective way of helping turtles as it reduces plastic waste in the ocean.

We usually use a plastic straw for drinking beverages that we can easily drink directly from the bottle or by the glass. So, it’s easy to avoid the use of a straw.

If you still feel the need to use a straw, metal straws are a good option. Since they are reusable, you are more likely to use them for a reasonable time before throwing them off, unlike one-time use-and-throw plastic straws.

If used, metal straws can help minimize the terrible effects of plastic straws on turtles. Also, metal straws are eco-friendly and do not harm turtles.

Moreover, metal straws quickly sink to the bottom of the sea, unlike plastic straws that float. Turtles usually do not venture towards the bottom of the water in search of food. So, even if metal straws reach the ocean, they are unlikely to be consumed by turtles.

Another way metal straws help turtles is that they are more durable and expensive than plastic straws. So, metal straws do not get thrown away immediately after use. This can result in fewer straws in the ocean. Besides, metal does not degrade into tiny particles that can be easily swallowed by turtles.

Do Metal Straws Kill Turtles?

Metal straws do not float in the water. Instead, they sink to the bottom of the water. So, metal straws are considered to be one of the most suitable substitutes for plastic straws.

Since metal straws sink to the bottom of the water, it is unlikely that the turtles will eat them.

Moreover, metal straws do not look like food, and so they do not attract turtles. That is why it is unlikely that turtles will get killed by metal straws.

Interesting Further Reading:

Parting Thoughts

Plastic straws are one of the primary reasons for the increase in turtle deaths. Millions of plastic straws enter the ocean regularly.

Since plastic straws are non-degradable, they turn into smaller pieces known as microplastics. These microplastics float on the ocean water and are often consumed by turtles as food.

On eating plastic straws, turtles’ stomachs get bloated. This causes indigestion. Bloating makes turtles feel as if their stomach is full. Due to this feeling, turtles do not consume nutritious food. Malnutrition and starvation can reach a point where it leads to turtles’ death.

Besides, plastic straws can also get entangled into turtles’ nostrils, proving disastrous. A better and effective alternative to plastic straws is metal straws.

Metal straws being durable, are not disposed of immediately. They reduce plastic debris inflow into the marine water, thus reducing the mortality rate of turtles.