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Plastic birds

Harald FranzenSeptember 1, 2015

A new study suggests that the vast majority of the world's seabirds have ingested plastic and as its global production continues to rise, the situation is likely to get even worse.

Symbolbild Verschmutzung der Meere
Image: Fotolia/sablin

Plastic is almost ubiquitous in the stomachs of sea birds and if things continue the way they are going, it will only get worse. That is the alarming finding of a new study published in this month’s #link:http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/08/27/1502108112:Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).#

In their document, entitled "Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing", a team of researchers from Imperial College London, the University of New South Wales and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation say that by 2050 a massive 99 percent of marine birds will have ingested plastic.

They arrived at their findings by correlating plastic debris distribution in the oceans with the areas were 186 seabird species live, while also taking decades worth of past studies about the ingestion of plastic by seabirds into account.

"These plastics can block the guts of the birds or if they are sharp pieces, they can even cut the guts open," Britta Denise Hardesty, research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and one of the authors of the study told DW.

Another problem relating to plastic in the oceans is that chemical contaminants stick to it. "Their concentration on the surface of the plastic particles can be 80 to 100,000 times that of the surrounding sea water," Hardesty added.

But she remains optimistic. "We used to find lots of plastic pellets in seabirds. So there was a campaign with the industry to improve the production processes and recycle them more effectively and within 5 to 10 years we’re now finding reduced numbers of these industrial pellets in birds."

Hardesty suggests there are many small things that people can do to prevent plastic waste from making it into the sea.

"Most of the plastic in the ocean was in someone's hand at some point. If you're returning a plastic bottle to be recycled, for example, make sure the cap is on the bottle so it doesn't eventually end up in the ocean but is properly recycled along with the bottle. We can do something about plastic pollution."