Believe it or not, nearly 90 percent of sea birds have plastic in their guts. According to the Canadian Journal, this shocking information was the subject of a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s a problem that affects different species of marine birds around the world, such as sea gulls, albatrosses, shearwaters, and even penguins. Researchers have found all sorts of plastic items in the bellies of these animals, from glowsticks to model cars.
It’s hard to fathom that so much garbage could have wound up in the majority of coastal birds. Researchers previously thought the number was 29 percent, up from five percent during the 1960s. What changed? Well, apparently this problem is blamed on a combination of factors.
Study co-author Denise Hardesty told the Associated Press that these birds often mistake plastic for fish eggs or other food sources.
“[The sea birds] think they’re getting a proper meal, but they’re really getting a plastic meal.”
The most surprising aspect of this discovery is that these sea birds aren’t getting their plastic from, say, the world’s largest landfill out in the Pacific Ocean. Instead, it seems that the birds more prone to eating plastic are actually found in areas of the world where their populations are very diverse. That’s why the biggest problem areas were determined to be in the South Pacific, near Australia and New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the sea bird populations in the United States and Europe are said to be “better off”. Europe has reduced plastic pellet production, which has had a positive effect on the northern fulmar.
— Jonathan Amos (@BBCAmos) August 31, 2015
Perhaps the startling information in this report will encourage some form of action; these birds continue to ingest plastic at an alarming rate. Although 90 percent is an extremely upsetting number, it can and probably will get even higher. The simulation by Hardesty showed that 99 percent of marine birds will have at least one piece of plastic in their bellies by 2050.
American University environmental scientist Kiho Kim wasn’t part of the study but praised it, saying that the simulation causing for 99 percent of sea birds to ingest plastic is “probably not unrealistic.”
The question now is what people will do with this information. It’s clear that these birds are suffering from a man-made problem, and the impacted animals are in ever-increasing danger. When these birds eat plastic, it can cause severe illness and possibly kill them.
Hopefully, a plausible solution will bring down the number of birds flying around with plastic inside them, and put a stop to the irresponsible garbage disposal that’s likely to blame.
[Image Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images]