The Tragedy of a Sea Turtle

John visits an exhibit called “No Plastic” at the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea.

In 2015, a red sea turtle named KOR0093 was ready to live on its own. After being hatched at a research aquarium in Nagoya, Japan, it had one big mission: give scientists an understanding of how sea turtles migrate, or move from one region to another according to the seasons.

Unfortunately, the turtle never left the Korea Strait, a sea passage between Japan and South Korea. Eleven days after the turtle’s release, it was dead.

At first, scientists were baffled. Why would a healthy, three-year-old sea turtle die? The strait’s habitat was adequate to the turtle’s needs, with an ample amount of food. The temperature was fine. And there was no indication of human harm to the turtle.

Scientists then dissected the sea turtle. They found that their observation about human harm had been wrong. The sea turtle had choked on a piece of discarded plastic, mistaking it for food.

“It’s sad that a turtle, a healthy, living turtle, died because of plastic,” said Ethan Park, a rising first grader who recently toured an exhibit about KOR0093 at the National Marine Biodiversity Institute of Korea.  



The exhibit, called “No Plastic,” is designed to raise awareness about the dangers that plastics pose to all marine life. According to the United Nations, at least 800 marine species worldwide are harmed by litter, most of which is plastic.  

“The turtle would have been in agony” after it swallowed the plastic, Ethan said after tracing KOR0093’s 11-day route. 

Visitors can see how a discarded plastic bag, for example, resembles a jellyfish, something that a sea turtle would eat to survive.

“It’s really unnerving to see how similar our everyday plastic is to a turtle’s prey,” said one scientist visiting the exhibit. “We must stop using plastic, or plastic will devastate humanity.”

Photo courtesy of the author