Most Seabirds Consume Plastic

Posted on September 3, 2015

As you squeeze the last unofficial hours of summer in this upcoming Labor Day Weekend, listen for the symphony of seabird calls as the seabirds swoop in the water, along the coastline, and for your food.

While they may be a slight annoyance for your relaxing beach day, they are indicators of ubiquity of plastic in the ocean and along the coastline. Researchers have found that the majority of the world seabird have consumed plastic and estimate that 99% will have consumed plastic by 2050.

Based on analysis of published studies from the 1960s, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Oceans and Atmosphere found that plastic is increasing common in seabird’s stomachs. In 1960, plastic was found in less than 5% of individual seabirds, but had risen to 80% by 2010. The researchers predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99% of all seabirds worldwide by 2050, based on current trends.

“For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species – and the results are striking,” said Dr. Chris Wilcox, senior research scientist. “We predict, using historical observations, that 90% of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution.”

Dr. Denise Hardesty continued, “Finding such widespread estimates of plastic in seabirds is borne out by some of the fieldwork we’ve carried out where I’ve found nearly 200 pieces of plastic in a single seabird.”

Researchers reached their estimates by overlaying the known foraging behavior of the world’s 400 seabird species on to the known distribution of plastic waste at sea. They found that the areas with the highest risk are not the great ocean gyres, where plastic gathers in the middle of the ocean, but the regions with the highest risk is a band in the ocean near Australia, South Africa, and South America.

“Every ocean is now filled with plastic. Some have more than others, but what we found is that even the oceans that are not known for their plastic – they still have quite a bit of plastic and they can be where the harm is really done just because that’s where all the birds live,” said Dr. Erik Van Sebille of Imperial College London.

The good news? Researchers have also found that the problem is solvable!

As Dr. Wilcox explained: “Because exposure to plastic turns out to be a strong predictor of how much plastic the birds have in them; that is, the more plastic they’re exposed to, the more they ingest – this implies that if we reduce the amount of plastic going into the oceans, you would expect all these species to essentially respond. And this makes the problem different from something like climate change. It ought to be relatively easy to fix.”

How can you help? Switch to a filtered water dispenser. Research has shown that as much as 80% of plastic from bottled water delivery is not recycled and eventually ends up as debris on land and in waterways. By eliminating the plastic from bottled water, you can help put an end to plastic debris in waterways and seabird stomachs! Now keeping seabirds away from your boardwalk fries? That’s a different story.

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