By Brad Nahill, President, SEE Turtles

If there is a poster species for the worldwide epidemic of plastic pollution, it’s sea turtles. Researchers have known the threats to sea turtles from plastic waste for decades; organizations that monitor nesting beaches have been working on this issue long before it became a popular cause. But while beach cleanups can help keep nesting beaches clear, we all know they are not the long-term solution to ocean pollution. Even in countries with relatively well-developed solid waste systems, less than 10% of plastic waste is actually recycled. In countries without recycling programs, much of the rest ends up in the water or is burned, damaging both human health and the climate.

The real long-term solution is ending disposable plastic. But even if all plastic production stopped today, millions of tons would still be floating in the ocean, impacting sea turtles, other wildlife and humans. SEE Turtles noticed a trend of sea turtle projects investing in efforts to take that waste from their beaches and recycle it into products that support conservation efforts and coastal communities. This was an area where we could have a significant impact. 

sea turtle with plastic pollution laying on the beach

© Neil Ever Osborne

Our Sea Turtles & Plastic program provides financial support to community organizations to create recycling infrastructure, including purchasing recycling equipment, training local residents and creating connections with local recycling efforts. To date, we have provided 15 recycling grants to local groups totaling more than $75,000 in funding. These projects have recycled more than 30,000 lbs of plastic to date and support nearly 1,000 coastal residents.

Travelers can reduce the impact of their trips on coastal communities and wildlife like sea turtles by reducing their use of plastic while traveling. Bringing along a refillable water bottle is a great way to both save money and create less waste. Another way to leave a positive impact is to join a beach cleanup or just take a bag and head out to a beach, river or other waterway and do your own cleanup. Check out our Travelers Against Plastic project for tips on how to reduce plastic waste in your life.

Through our Sustainable Tourism Sponsorships, companies such as Nat Hab are supporting efforts to reduce plastic in sea turtle habitats around the worldExamples of projects supported by these sponsorships include a $5,000 grant to the Kishoka Youth Community-Based Organization in Mombasa, Kenya. Sea turtle populations in Kenya are declining due to the degradation of critical nesting habitats with plastic marine litter. Students and community members will learn about waste segregation processes, create products out of recycled plastic like bangles and connect with recyclers like Kwale Plastic Plus to purchase their excess plastics, rubber and glasses.

We are also supporting the work of Fuze Ecoteer in Malaysia. Fuze Ecoteer works on waste reduction in two important sea turtle nesting areas in the Perhentian Islands, which is the second largest island-based sea turtle rookery in Peninsular Malaysia and the Klang River (an area once rated as the second highest contributor to the world ocean plastic problem). The Klang River drains into the Melaka Straits, which is home to Malaysia’s largest hawksbill rookery. This project will remove an estimated 11,023 lbs (5,000 kg) of waste, including ghost nets, and recycle over 1,102 lbs (500 kg) of plastic into new items. 

beach cleanup to save sea turtles

© Kishoka Youth Organization