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PLASTIC IN 99 PER CENT OF SEABIRDS BY 2050

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PLASTIC IN 99 PER CENT OF SEABIRDS BY 2050

August 31, 2015 CSIRO

Researchers from CSIRO and Imperial College London have assessed how widespread the threat of plastic is for the world’s seabirds, including albatrosses, shearwaters and penguins, and found the majority of seabird species have plastic in their gut. The study, led by Dr Chris Wilcox with co-authors Dr Denise Hardesty and Dr Erik van Sebille and published today in the journal PNAS, found that nearly 60 per cent of all seabird species have plastic in their gut. Based on analysis of published studies since the early 1960s, the researchers found that plastic is increasingly common in seabird’s stomachs. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomach of less than 5 per cent of individual seabirds, rising to 80 per cent by 2010. The researchers predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99 per cent of the world’s seabird species by 2050, based on current trends. The scientists estimate that 90 per cent of all seabirds alive today have eaten plastic of some kind. This includes bags, bottle caps, and plastic fibres from synthetic clothes, which have washed out into the ocean from urban rivers, sewers and waste deposits. Birds mistake the brightly coloured items for food, or swallow them by accident, and this causes gut impaction, weight loss and sometimes even death. “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,” senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere Dr Wilcox said. “We predict, using historical observations, that 90 per cent of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution.” Dr Denise Hardesty from CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere said seabirds were excellent indicators of ecosystem health. “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,”
Dr Hardesty said….Even simple measures can make a difference, such as reducing packaging, banning single-use plastic items or charging an extra fee to use them, and introducing deposits for recyclable items like drink containers. “Efforts to reduce plastics losses into the environment in Europe resulted in measureable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs with less than a decade, which suggests that improvements in basic waste management can reduce plastic in the environment in a really short time.” Chief Scientist at the US-based Ocean Conservancy Dr George H. Leonard said the study was highly important and demonstrated how pervasive plastics were in oceans. “Hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world come face-to-face with this problem during annual Coastal Cleanup events,” Dr Leonard said. “Scientists, the private sector and global citizens working together against the growing onslaught of plastic pollution can reduce plastic inputs to help protect marine biodiversity.” The work was carried out as part of a national marine debris project supported by CSIRO and Shell’s Social investment program as well as the marine debris working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, with support from Ocean Conservancy

 

Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing

Chris Wilcoxa,1, Erik Van Sebilleb,c, and Britta Denise Hardestya
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PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1502108112

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a rapidly emerging global environmental concern, with high concentrations (up to 580,000 pieces per km2) and a global distribution, driven by exponentially increasing production. Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to this type of pollution and are widely observed to ingest floating plastic. We used a mixture of literature surveys, oceanographic modeling, and ecological models to predict the risk of plastic ingestion to 186 seabird species globally. Impacts are greatest at the southern boundary of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, a region thought to be relatively pristine. Although evidence of population level impacts from plastic pollution is still emerging, our results suggest that this threat is geographically widespread, pervasive, and rapidly increasing.

 


 

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