The microplastics problem in the oceans has made its way to sea turtles in a big way. A new study from researchers at the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory along with Greenpeace Research Laboratories has found microplastics in the guts of every single turtle they tested — a total of 102 sea turtles.

The researchers tested more than 100 sea turtles from all seven species and three different oceans, and they were looking for synthetic particles less than 5 mm in length. The most common thing the team found were fibers, which most likely came from clothing, tires, cigarette filters and fishing equipment.

Related: Microplastics have made their way into human poop

“The effect of these particles on turtles is unknown,” said lead author Emily Duncan from the University of Exeter’s Center for Ecology and Conservation. “Their small size means they can pass through the gut without causing a blockage, as is frequently reported with larger plastic fragments.”

Duncan added that future work should focus on the effects of microplastics in aquatic organisms, and researchers should look for possible contaminants, bacteria or viruses as well as how the microplastics affect turtles on a cellular level.

The researchers found more than 800 synthetic particles in the turtles, but since they only tested part of the gut, they believe the total number of particles could be 20 times higher. They don’t know how the turtles ingest the particles, but they think the sources are polluted seawater and the digestion of polluted prey or plants.

Professor Brendan Godley, the senior author of the study, said that the ingestion of microplastics isn’t the biggest threat to sea turtles at the moment, but it is a clear sign that we need to do a better job governing global waste.

Penelope Lindeque from Plymouth Marine Laboratory said that during their work over the years, researchers have found microplastics in all of the marine animals they have studied. This turtle study is just more evidence that we need to reduce the amount of plastic waste, so we can maintain clean and healthy oceans for future generations.

+ University of Exeter

Image via Jeremy Bishop