COX’S BAZAR: At least 20 turtles were dead and dozens more were rescued on Sunday after being 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. They spotted turtle carcasses among the sand dunes early 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 said.

“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 stretch of the 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 said.

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 said.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2020