Canadian Wildlife Federation LogoEnvironment and Climate Change Canada Logo

Combat Dumping on Shores and in Marine Habitats

The world’s largest living turtle, the leatherback, is found off our Atlantic and Pacific coasts. With a shell as long as 2.5 metres, it can weigh up to 900 kilograms. You wouldn’t think much could get in this giant’s way. But, in fact, common plastic debris is causing leatherbacks terrible trouble. They mistake plastic bags, balloons or containers for jellyfish — their favourite food. Once swallowed, the plastic clogs the turtles’ intestines, causing them to die. Leatherbacks are already endangered worldwide because humans hunt the adult turtles and their eggs for food. They certainly don’t need to deal with another deadly menace like plastic debris.

The tonnes of litter tossed thoughtlessly into our waterways kills many other marine species as well. Six-pack rings from beer and pop cans often strangle fish and birds. Old fishing lines, nets, kite strings, and ropes can also be deadly. When animals get tangled, the debris causes cuts and infection. Seabirds, turtles, dolphins, and seals get exhausted from trailing nets behind them. These creatures can slowly strangle, suffocate, or die from infection.

Recent studies in Alaska show that, each year, as many as 30,000 northern fur seals get entangled in plastic debris and die. Birds, turtles, and even whales swallow plastic bags and other objects, thinking they’re food.

One survey estimates that recreational boaters dump an average of half a kilogram of garbage into the water every time they go out in their boats.

For centuries, seafarers threw their litter into the drink without a worry. But that was before indestructible plastics came along. In those days, trash was made up of natural material that decomposed with no harm to wildlife. Today, litter is an enormous ecological problem, but one we can solve so easily. In the Maritimes, a group of commercial fishermen has organized a hugely successful plan to stop ocean pollution. In the Ship to Shore Trash Campaign, fishermen now bring their garbage ashore instead of tossing it overboard. Fishing boats along the Acadian shore of New Brunswick bring ashore about 9,500 kilograms of trash every week! The campaign could make the difference between life and death for leatherback turtles.

Here’s how you can be tender to turtles and other marine wildlife: