A three-year study reveals that the blood of the green turtle of the Great Barrier Reef is shockingly contaminated by human pollution.

The ‘Rivers to Reef to Turtles’ project detected thousands of different chemicals and metals associated with  industry and agriculture, indicating the influence of human activity on the ecosystem. Upon thorough collection and analyzation of clinical samples including blood, scute (bits of shell), and stomach contents, as well as water, sediment, and seagrass (food for the turtles), a complex list of chemicals was uncovered in the animals’ bloodstream. Among those identified were an alarming list of pharmaceutical drugs, and cosmetic and industrial products.

Although this study only encompasses turtles, Amy Heffernan, co-author of the study and Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) researcher, told Lady Freethinker,”By looking at the health of the turtles, we are also looking at the health of the reef. Turtles of this age stay in a very narrow home environment for 10-20 years, so they are a good long term monitoring tool…there is evidence that other marine life, such as dolphins and whales, also carry chemicals in their blood and blubber (fat layer), and this happens in animals all over the world.”

From 2010-2014, roughly six-thousand turtles were stranded on the beaches of Queensland. And in June-July of 2012 the beaches of Upstart Bay alone saw a mass stranding of over one hundred turtles. Six of the world’s marine turtle species can be found in Queensland waters. A collaborative project headed by World Wildlife Fund- Australia (WWF), Rivers to Reef to Turtles, sought to answer what was polluting the Great Barrier Reef and the turtles. The turtles of Upstart Bay, one of the sites visited for the study, had the highest number of detected chemicals in their bloodstream.

If the 2012 stranding was the result of the revealed contamination — and an indication of the future — the message for us is clear: Stop polluting the water.

The WWF research team included scientists and doctors from QAEHS. On their list of findings are the medications allopurinol for gout and kidney stones, milrinone for heart disease, guaiacolsulfonate from pharmaceuticals, isoquinoline and docosanamide used for industrial adhesives, lubricants, and sealants, and fragrances used in cosmetics. Yet, despite this disturbing news, there are still thousands of unidentified, unknown chemicals infecting the turtles and the reef. Considering that an incredible 15,000 chemicals per day are registered in the world, uncovering each one seems impossible.

But what we can know with certainty is that everything we do winds up affecting the environment. The idea that the vast ocean can wash away the weight of our abuse is no longer a denial we can live with. Everyday the evidence grows of repercussions following the destruction we impose on the environment.

Marine turtles have been part of the ecosystem for over one hundred million years. So it’s very upsetting, and should serve as a wake up call to all of us, that in just a fraction of this time, human beings have managed to do so much damage to the Earth that now all marine turtles are either threatened or endangered. Green turtles have already reached the endangered classification. The only way to save them is to improve their water quality.

Heffernan adds that, “Firstly, we as consumers, need to be aware that the products we use, the stuff we wash down the sink, or spray on farms ultimately ends up in the ocean. We have a responsibility to balance the convenience of modern life and the impact on the environment.”

The study was finalized in May of 2017. Yet with more funding it will hopefully continue, shedding light on the chemicals not yet identified, which affect not only the turtles, but all of our waters. Once we see how the minutia of everything we do can have a negative impact we can embrace that fact that denial is futile, and work to initiate a positive impact.