It’s like we’re trying to create teenage mutant ninja turtles …

2 Jun 2017

A turtle, or more? Image: Iness Arna/Shutterstock

Human activity has caused damage to the ozone layer, the ice caps, the jungles, the forests and the seas. The latest victims are turtles.

The research surrounding Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has provided grim findings for several years now, with bleaching and death a constant, rather than a rarity, of late.

However, it’s not just the warming of the oceans that is signalling a worrying future for marine life in the region – an even more direct human activity is beginning to emerge as a key concern.

Future Human


Medicine cabinet

Researchers claim to have found the likes of heart and gout medications, pesticides, herbicides and other industrial chemicals in the blood of green sea turtles in the Great Barrier Reef.

That provides for three parts of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tag, with us just needing to teach them some martial arts to complete the set. That said, it is not clear if reaching teenage years will be a sustainable reality, should enough chemicals make it into the turtles’ systems.

The discovery was made as part of a project led by the World Wildlife Fund, which compared samples from turtles in urban areas to the more remote locations.

“What you put down your sink, spray on your farms, or release from industries ends up in the marine environment and in turtles in the Great Barrier Reef,” said environmental chemist Amy Heffernan from the University of Queensland.

“Humans are putting a lot of chemicals into the environment and we don’t always know what they are and what effect they are having, we need to be conscious of that,” she told ABC.

“There is one new chemical registered for use every six seconds, so the libraries and the databases that we use to identify these chemicals just can’t keep up.”

No improvement

This is the latest in a long line of bleak studies into pollution in the planet’s oceans and on beaches around the world.

Last month, a study of Henderson Island found that humanity’s pre-packaged fingerprints were all over its previously pristine beaches.

Uninhabited by humans, the island – part of the UK-owned Pitcairn Islands – has sadly been ruined by our activity, with an estimated 17 tonnes (37m pieces) of plastic debris deposited there.

In 2015, a major investigation into Earth’s wildlife found that that 90pc of all seabirds have consumed plastic, with the likes of albatrosses and penguins now in trouble.

The research shows that just 5pc of seabirds had eaten plastic in 1960, rising to 80pc five years ago, with today’s results posing a serious threat to wildlife.

Banned for life

A related study spanning the depths of Earth’s oceans found human-made pollutants that were banned in the 1970s.

Sampling amphipods from the Marianas and Kermadec trenches, Newcastle University’s Dr Alan Jamieson led a study that found extremely high levels of pollution in the organism’s fatty tissue.

These included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, pollutants commonly used as electrical insulators and flame retardants.

The former was banned in the 1970s in many parts of the world, which means that during its four-decade run, enough PCB was produced – estimated at 1.3m tonnes – to have a potentially damaging impact 40 years later.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic