Lochlan O'Neil, from Denver, Colorado in the USA, is spending lockdown in Cape Town and is a self-described "narcoleptic zoologist" and costume designer with a fascination for all things ocean. Lochlan recently approached the Two Oceans Aquarium with her perspective on the ocean plastic pollution crisis, and we decided to share it with you for Plastic Free July!
The ocean is an amazing, beautiful, and colourful place! The sea can be calm one day, with soft waves, soft movement, and a soft blue look. However, in the blink of an eye, the sea can then turn bright pink with a jellyfish bloom, and within a matter of another second, stormy weather with flashing lightning can cause the water to turn black. But just as the sea can turn from pink and then to black without warning, it can also suddenly light back up with an array of spectacular colours provided by jellyfish and the sea turtles that eat them. As someone who has been lucky enough to witness several jellyfish blooms first hand, the best way I can describe it is an “oceanic firework show put on by Mother Nature.”
I am originally from the United States, and grew up in the Deep South where I worked in marine conservation up and down the East Coast. When living in Colorado, my worries about trash and plastic bags were lost on the mountain dwellers who had never met sea turtles or jellyfish. However, one does not need to be a marine biologist to realise that jellyfish and plastic bags look quite similar! And as any marine biologist can tell you, sea turtles are not the best at telling them apart. There are seven species of sea turtles, and all of them are listed as either threatened or endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Loggerhead sea turtles are the state reptile of South Carolina, where I did most of my marine biology research, but I tended to work around the more common green sea turtles. Interestingly enough, these two species are the same as some of the Two Ocean Aquarium’s greatest success stories: Yoshi and Alvi. Alvi, in particular, has always been of great interest to me due to the fact that I had been studying fashion at the time that the video of the plastic bag being pulled out of his throat went viral. When I saw the video, I was instantly brought back to the time I participated in the autopsy of an adult male green sea turtle a month after the Fourth of July and found a stomach full of trash, including plastic bags, balloons, and even pantyhose. All things that look like jellyfish to sea turtles. And to me.
People all around the world love sea turtles, from South Africa to South Carolina! However, I find it hypocritical for those anywhere in the world who claim to love sea turtles to participate in any kind of practices that may harm them - whether that be setting off fireworks that disturb nesting sites and confuse baby turtles or destroying the beach by leaving trash after celebrations. For Plastic Free July, I urge people all over the world to consider the impact their celebrations have on our ocean and its inhabitants. Instead of using plastic bags that look similar to jellyfish (both floating through the ocean, and washed up on shore,) consider paper or reusable bags! Instead of fireworks, consider laser light shows. Or better yet, take a trip out into the ocean and experience the beauty of the waters for yourself. You might just see some sea turtles eating their actual favourite foods: Jellyfish!
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