Posted 21st Sep 2017 by Peter Byrne
A new report has highlighted the significant threat that marine plastic pollution will pose to seabirds in the north-eastern Atlantic region
Investigating 34 seabird species, researchers found 74 per cent had ingested plastic.
The paper was published in the journal Environmental Pollution, and was written by scientists at North Highland College UHI's Environmental Research Institute, part of the University of the Highland and Islands, and the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.
Authors were able to collate data from all known studies to report instances of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation in seabirds across Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, Svalbard, the Faroes and Iceland.
Seabird ecologist Dr Nina O'Hanlon was one of the scientists who worked on the project. She commented: "Marine plastic pollution is an increasing and global environmental issue which poses a major threat to marine biodiversity. The production of plastic continues to rise with millions of tons entering the oceans each year. Seabirds can ingest plastic, become entangled in it or incorporate it into their nests, causing impacts which may have negative consequences on reproduction and survival."
Dr Alex Bond, RSPB senior conservation scientist, said: "The north-eastern Atlantic Ocean is home to internationally important breeding populations of seabirds and an amazing array of other marine life. Solutions to plastic pollution in the oceans require concerted action at its source on land - 80% of marine litter is thought to come from land - especially by producers and users."
"The properties which make plastics desirable are the very things which make it problematic,” Dr Bond continues. “Due to its low cost, approximately half of all plastic items are produced for single-use. Plastic never breaks down, it only breaks up, into smaller fragments which remain in the environment and, as its density varies, it can be found throughout the water column, increasing the number of species which come into contact with it."
The team's research emphasises some concerning statistics, concluding that more coordinated, comprehensive and detailed investigations are required on plastic ingestion and nest incorporation to assess the impact marine plastic will have on seabird populations.
Dr O'Hanlon explains: "In the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean, an area of international importance for seabirds, there has been little effort to better understand how marine plastic affects different seabird species over time and regionally. We actually know very little about the current prevalence of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation for many species, several, like the Long-tailed Duck and Atlantic Puffin, which are globally threatened. Only 49% of the 69 species which are commonly found in the region have been investigated for plastic ingestion. We believe it’s vital to have a multi-jurisdictional, coordinated and collaborative effort to gain a more comprehensive and current understanding of this important issue."
Research was undertaken as part of Circular Ocean, a project funded by the EU's Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, which looks to incentivise the reuse and recycling of marine plastic litter in remote and rural regions.
Image courtesy of Pixabay