A new study suggests that the vast majority of the world’s seabirds have ingested plastic, and as more and more plastic is produced throughout the world, the situation is likely to get even worse.
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 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% of marine birds will have ingested plastic.
They arrived at their findings by studying 135 bird species between 1962 and 2012, and making projections based on the currently known level of plastics in our oceans.
It is a massive leap. Reseach dating back to the 1960s showed less than 5% of birds had eaten plastic particles. The study said the number had doubled every 11 years.
“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 Hardesty 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.”