Roughly 90 percent of seabirds have ingested plastic, as reported by researchers from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Imperial College London in a study called “World Gone Terribly Wrong.”
If nothing changes, the problem is only going to get worse, they add. Starting from penguins, albatrosses and shearwaters, most of the world’s seabirds have plastic in their stomachs, including bottle caps, pieces of bags and even synthetic clothes.
Since urban sewers, rivers and waste deposits all end up in the ocean, it’s not hard for birds looking for food to ingest them. Studies going back to the early 1960s reveal the phenomenon is not very recent, but it has seen a dramatic increase from less than 5 percent to 90 percent today.
Study author Dr. Chris Wilcox, senior researcher at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, explains that based on historical observations, the 90 percent of seabirds that have eaten plastic just goes to show how bad plastic pollution has got. Predictions for 2050 don’t look good either: unless something changes, plastic ingestion will affect virtually all of the world’s seabird species.
This is the first time researchers were able to provide a global prediction of the incredible impacts plastic has on marine species, and the effects don’t stop there. According to co-author Dr. Denise Hardesty, seabirds are often used as indicators of a ecosystem’s health, and in this case, the results are striking.
The widespread estimate of plastic in seabirds is the result of extensive fieldwork; Hardesty said it was shocking to find up to 200 pieces of plastic crammed in a single seabird. It’s not uncommon for birds to mistakenly ingest brightly colored plastic bits as food; the health effects range from gut impaction, weight loss and even death.
Plastics have the greatest negative impact in the Southern Ocean, according to the report, around the edges of Australia, South Africa and South America. Dr. Erik van Sebille, co-author from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, also wrote that a greater diversity of species usually meant a more harmful effect.
A lot of seabirds such as penguins and giant albatrosses are on the verge of becoming endangered because of the garbage patches that float in the middle of the oceans. Strikingly dense in plastic, these toxic islands invade entire ecosystems, which is why very few animals live there.
Waste management needs improvement, said Hardesty, if we want to change the impact plastic has on seabirds. It took Europe less than a decade to reduce plastic in seabird stomachs by implementing efforts to control plastics losses into the environment.
Image Source: Images of New Zealand