Nearly Every Seabird on Earth Is Eating Plastic

Plastic trash is found in 90 percent of seabirds. The rate is growing steadily as global production of plastics increases.

“That was shocking,” says Chris Wilcox, a research scientist with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and lead author of the study. “Essentially, the number of species and number of individuals within species that you find plastic in is going up fairly rapidly by a couple percent every year.”

The most disturbing finding, Wilcox says, is the link between the increasing rate of plastics manufacturing and the increasing rate at which the material is saturating seabirds.

“Global plastic production doubles every 11 years,” Wilcox says. “So in the next 11 years, we’ll make as much plastic as we’ve made since plastic was invented. Seabirds’ ingestion of plastic is tracking with that.”

ingestion-black-footed-albatross-ingesting-plastic-3-photo-frans-lanting  ingestion-albatross-fledgling-chris-jordan  ingestion-bird-snacking-on-cigarette-butt-photo-credit-lea-anne-stacy-on-pinterst

Black-footed albatross ingesting plastic Photo: Frans Lanting; Albatross fledgling Photo: Chris Jordan; Bird ingesting cigarette butt

… are more prone to eating plastic because they fish by skimming their beaks across the top of the water, and inadvertently take in plastics floating on the surface. Petrels and shearwaters, which live on offshore islands and forage over large areas of sea, also contain large amounts of plastic in their stomachs.

Plastic found inside birds includes bags, bottle caps, synthetic fibers from clothing, and tiny rice-sized bits that have been broken down by the sun and waves.

The health effects of plastics on seabird populations have not been fully measured. But observational data collected is troubling enough, Wilcox says.

Sharp-edged plastic kills birds by punching holes in internal organs. Some seabirds eat so much plastic, there is little room left in their gut for food, which affects their body weight, jeopardizing their health. One bird examined by scientist Denise Hardesty had consumed 200 pieces of plastic.

“If you add more plastic to the gut, it will eventually make a difference,” Wilcox says. “The trend suggests that it’s going to keep increasing.”

A recent study found a 67 percent decline in seabird populations between 1950 and 2010.

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Nearly Every Seabird on Earth Is Eating Plastic

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