Are Atlantic Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) at Risk of Plastic Pollution in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean?
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The production of plastic has greatly increased since the early 20th century resulting in an overwhelming abundance on land and in the sea. The solid waste pollution found in the ocean poses sublethal to lethal threats to marine turtles through ingestion, entanglement, and habitat degradation. The leatherback turtle is a migratory species that inhabits terrestrial and marine environments and is better known for its migrations from mid to higher latitudes. Out of the seven species, it is the only marine turtle to migrate in Canadian cold water for the sole purpose to forage on gelatinous zooplankton (i.e. jellyfish) which are easily mistaken with plastic bags. Their movements frequently overlap the fishing industry, increasing their exposure to entanglement with fishing gear. Throughout its life cycle, leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are exposed to the multiple threats from contact with plastic debris. This project explores the exposure, possible pathways of exposure, and the effects of plastic debris on the endangered Northwest Atlantic Leatherback subpopulation through a comprehensive literature review and an analysis of data on plastic litter found on the shorelines of Canadian Maritime provinces. A comparison of the effectiveness of current waste management strategies and leatherback conservation efforts are discussed in the context of the Northwest Atlantic regions, with the aim of assess the risk of plastics to the turtles. Keywords: Leatherback turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, Northwest Atlantic Ocean, plastic, ingestion, marine litter, marine debris, waste management, Nova Scotia, Ecological Risk Assessment