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To Turtles, Ocean Plastic Smells Like Food, Study Finds

Researchers exposed the turtles to four different smells. Photo courtesy Joseph Pfaller

New research suggests plastic debris adrift in the world’s oceans might attract marine animals because it smells like food. 

The researchers exposed 15 captive-reared loggerhead sea turtles, collected from Bald Head Island in North Carolina, to four different smells. 

The smells were of turtle food, clean plastic, plastic that had been exposed to the ocean and deionized water. 

The researchers, including one from the University of Florida, found the turtles responded to the smell of ocean plastic in the same way they responded to the smell of food. 

The reason turtles are drawn to ocean plastic has been a mystery. One theory has been that the turtles mistake plastic like plastic bags for jellyfish. 

The study suggests instead that the plastic smell stimulates foraging behaviors in the turtles.  


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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »