STUART, Fla. — Both a stunning and concerning sight off Florida's coastline is raising concerns about plastic pollution and its impacts on sea life.
Fisherman and “YouTuber" Gabriel Arrington, who runs the "bluegabe" page, was shooting footage last week when a leatherback sea turtle swam within feet of his boat.
"That was as rare as it gets," Arrington said.
But in the mix of the line of seaweed where the turtle was eating, Arrington recorded a video showing dozens of pieces of litter, including many pieces of plastic.
He and fellow outdoor "YouTuber" Kelly Young tried cleaning up some of the litter as the turtle swam nearby.
"I couldn't get it all if I had to," Arrington said.
Young said plastic bags looked identical to the jellyfish the turtles eat.
"He ate some plastic. See that lays potato chip bag?" Arrington is heard saying.
Eating the plastic can cause indigestion, at best, and death, at worst, to sea life, according to FAU Assistant Professor Dr. Tracy Mincer.
"Unfortunately, it's very common," Mincer said.
Mincer said an abundance of plastic in the oceans has been a concern for scientists since at least the 1970s, but clearly, a solution is still needed.
"The numbers are quite high worldwide. Upwards of 20 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year," Mincer said.
Arrington and Young also found large amounts of trash along the shoreline near the St. Lucie Inlet.
"It's insane. It's just everywhere," Arrington said.
His two sons and Young spent about 20 minutes picking up litter, quickly filling up a large trash bag.
"Why isn't this the No. 1 topic in our world right now?" Arrington asked.
Mincer said the plastics get in the ocean in many ways, but especially through storms and runoff pushing waste into the oceans and rivers.
She said if plastics stopped entering the ocean completely today, it could take a couple of decades to see big changes.
"The ocean's actually pretty robust and can clear itself pretty quickly," Mincer said.
But stopping plastic pollution completely is a major undertaking.
That's why Arrington hopes images of the leatherback swimming in litter will be one more motivator for people to do their part, whether that's through beach cleanups, using fewer single-use plastics and being careful to recycle.