Twenty-four neat lines of colorful plastic shards cover a table at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. These piles are no more than a couple inches long, but they aren’t a random collection. Each represents the amount of plastic swallowed by one of 24 sea turtle hatchlings, a diet that proved fatal.
These 24 were a small percentage of the dead, or nearly dead, hatchlings brought to the Loggerhead Center in Juno Beach last year and all had one thing in common — plastic-filled intestinal tracts.
“There is no way of knowing how many hatchlings die a year because of plastic,” said Dr. Charles Manire, Loggerhead’s director of research and rehabilitation. “We just see the ones that wash up on the beaches.”
The hatchlings swallow plastic, perhaps mistaking it for food, and can’t pass it because their bodies are too tiny. So the plastic blocks their intestinal tracts and they die.
“The only way to curb this crisis is to pass legislation, which prohibits single-use plastics,” said Jupiter resident Marilu Cristina Flores, who has drafted an ordinance to ban plastic straws in Jupiter.
The proposed ordinance would prohibit businesses from giving out single-use plastic straws to its patrons and discourage the “auto-straw” practice of automatically distributing a straw with every drink. Under the proposal, businesses would provide only straws made from such materials as biodegradable paper, glass, bamboo and stainless steel, when asked.
“We aren’t telling people they can’t have a straw,” said Flores. “We are just saying no to the single-use plastic ones.”
Flores was inspired to bring the straw ban to Jupiter after seeing a similar one approved in Miami Beach and volunteering with the Surf Rider foundation, an organization that brings awareness to issues facing the ocean.
“I realized that every beach has a lot of plastic,” said Flores, who has traveled throughout the Caribbean and Hawaii to study the effects of marine debris and pollution. “Other communities have started to tackle this issue like Miami Beach, Fort Myers, Seattle and San Francisco.”
On the last Earth Day, 42 restaurants and businesses from West Palm Beach to Tequesta got a taste of the straw-free life. They partnered with the Loggerhead Center for the #StrawFreeWithLMC day and an estimated 10,000 straws remained unused.
“Our customers were really supportive,” said Pizza Girls’ manager, George Poole. “I was really impressed that so many people knew about [the straw-free day.]”
The Corner Cafe in Tequesta also had receptive customers and its manager, Barry Rosenfield, liked the project so much that he made a permanent change.
“We no longer do auto-straw,” said Rosenfield. “You’d be surprised by how little people ask for straws. We loved this idea and would like to do more.”
But for Rosenfield the cost of alternatives to plastic straws is what’s stopping him from switching. “It’s just not cost-efficient for a business,” said Rosenfield.
Flores is aware that plastic straws cost about five to 10 cents each compared to some paper straw brands that are between 80 and 90 cents each. However, she said there are affordable options like the Aardvark paper straw that is only a cent more than a plastic straw.
The Breakers in Palm Beach has already made the switch to Aardvark paper straws and eliminated plastic water bottles as just some of its green initiatives, according to Bonnie Reuben, marketing and communications manager for The Breakers.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” said Flores, which is why she wants to hold an educational expo for businesses and restaurants if the ordinance passes.
Flores said she hasn’t met opposition from people about the ban and after she presented the ordinance to the town’s beach committee, members were in favor of it.
“We are always in favor of eliminating … plastic pollution in our oceans,” said Betsy Munson, vice-chair of the beach committee.
The committee plans to have a second meeting about the proposed ordinance before presenting it to the town council. The earliest that would happen is late June, Munson said.
“The presentation that [Flores] gave was very informative and interesting,” said Munson. “We just need some more research.”
It was research the Loggerhead Center said led to the straw-free Earth Day.
“We are just starting to understand the scope of things,” Manire said. The center saved 991 hatchlings in 2017, but nearly every one had plastic in their intestines, which is what doctors were sadly expecting, he said.
“Twenty-five years ago we saw this happening occasionally, but now it’s happening too frequently,” said Manire. “The long-term effect of the plastic is scary to think about because if these hatchlings keep dying we could lose a generation of sea turtles.”