At least 20 turtles have been found dead as dozens more were rescued after getting entangled in plastic waste washed ashore on one of the world’s longest beaches in Bangladesh, officials and conservationists said.
Locals said waves of waste – mostly plastic bottles, fishing nets and buoys – floated ashore late on Saturday and turtle carcasses were spotted among the sand dunes early on Sunday.
Bangladesh’s forestry department said it was the first time such a large volume of plastic had washed onto the 120-kilometre (75-mile) beach along the Bay of Bengal.
“Hundreds of locals rushed to the beach since early morning to rescue the wounded turtles,” forestry spokesman Sohail Hossain told AFP news agency.
“We have buried the dead ones and are trying to release the rescued turtles back to sea.”
Beach clean-up charity Plastic Bank Bangladesh said their volunteers found and buried at least 20 Olive Ridley turtles among the estimated 50 tonnes of waste spread out over a 10-kilometre (six-mile) stretch of beach at Cox’s Bazar.
“I haven’t seen these many dead turtles lying on the beach in my life and also haven’t seen such a massive pile of waste floating ashore,” fisherman Jashim Uddin told AFP.
Leading Bangladesh turtle and tortoise expert Shahriar Caesar Rahman of the NGO Creative Conservation Alliance said most of the turtles were at least 30 years old.
“The turtles often get trapped in gigantic waste patches floating in the sea and eventually die of suffocation. This seems to be a similar case,” he told AFP.
About 26 tonnes of waste produced from ships and neighbouring countries float into the Bay of Bengal every year, said Moazzem Hossain of local conservation charity Save the Nature Bangladesh.
“This is a unique case of plastic invasion. It sends a great danger signal to our marine biodiversity,” he said.
It was not clear how many turtles were rescued.
Local district administrator Kamal Hossain said authorities were investigating the incident.
Olive Ridleys are the most abundant of all sea turtles around the world, according to conservationists.
But their numbers have been declining, and the species is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List.