Friday, 24 August 2012

Seabirds eating more plastic than ever before

New study finds that bird ingestion of plastic in U.S./Canadian North Pacific amongst highest in the world
August 2012. A new study by U.S. and Canadian scientists has found that seabirds may be eating much more plastic trash than they have in the past, and that seabirds studied off the coast of Washington State and British Columbia are ingesting plastic at rates that are "among the highest" in the world.
Northern fulmars
The report was authored by Stephanie Avery-Gomm of the University of British Columbia and five other researchers. The study was carried out in 2009 - 2010 and involved the analysis of 67 Northern Fulmars that washed up dead on the shores between Long Beach, Washington, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Northern Fulmars, gull-like petrels related to albatrosses and shearwaters, are particularly suitable to study when considering trends in plastic pollution because they forage almost exclusively at sea, have vast ranges and because they will forage almost anything from the surface of the water.
Worrying result
"The results are troubling. The large amount of plastic ingested by fulmars from the eastern North Pacific are approaching the high levels which have been documented previously in the historically polluted North Sea, where fulmars have been used as an indicator species of ocean health for decades. In addition, it is safe to say, based on earlier studies from the North Pacific, plastic ingestion in Northern Fulmars, and therefore plastic pollution, has increased in the North Pacific over the past forty years," said Avery-Gomm.
Plastic fills up the stomach
"The science on this issue is still being refined - there is much we don't know about the impacts of plastic ingestion on birds in general and Northern Fulmars in particular. We do know that the plastic in the stomach displaces the space for food that the birds need and that plastic can lacerate the stomach lining. Some of the birds we looked at had their gizzards completely full with plastic. We also know that plastic in the sea absorbs an astounding level of contaminants in a very short time and that these contaminants may leach out in a bird that swallows it," said Avery-Gomm.

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