Plastic Pollution Threatens Survival of Seabirds, Study Highlights Physical Anomalies

Image: Flickr/Sparkle Motion

Aquatic creatures are one of the most affected due to plastic pollution and now there’s more need to worry. A study by University of Tasmania Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) has found that seabirds are getting plagued by a lot of health issues due to ingestion of plastic waste that’s being littered into the oceans.

Detailed studies by IMAS, contributed by Natural History Museum conducted on near-threatened flesh-footed shearwaters on Lord Howe Island off the eastern coast of Australia have found the birds to be having health conditions like high cholesterol.

This study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology was mainly concentrated in the region between the boundary of the Southern Ocean and the Tasman Sea, sandwiched between Australia and New Zealand. Here, the ocean garbage overlaps with a varied species of seabirds, which makes it a serious issue in the coming decade.

Image: Cameron Muir

The Natural History Museum addressed the problem of high cholesterol in these birds by expressing;
Rise of cholesterol levels was an unexpected finding and what this means for the birds and their health is still not fully understood.

The birds with such health problems exhibited typical physical anomalies like shorter wings, smaller bill length, lower body mass, deteriorated calcium levels and overall smaller body structure.

This study clearly shows the malnutrition state of these birds right after birth as the plastic fills their stomach and induces a state of fullness. The birds feed their chicks with pieces of plastic instead of fish.

According to Jeniffer Lavers, the lead researcher at IMAS, the most significant impact is on the bird’s kidney function which results in high uric acid concentration and functioning of enzymes.

Plastic Eaten by Seabirds - Plastic Pollution

Image: Britta Denise Hardesty

Jeniffer added by saying;

Our data did not show a significant relationship between the volume of plastic ingested and the health of individuals, suggesting that any plastic ingestion is sufficient to have an impact.

The research team found an average of 200 pieces of plastic in a single seabird including things such as bottle caps, balloon bits, cigarette lighter, plastic toys and toothbrushes. In fact, plastic waste makes up for about 8% of their body weight which is an alarming amount.

Sadly, the more plastic these birds come across, the more of it they tend to eat. This can be a clear indicator of the concentration of plastic waste in certain specific regions of the oceans. Reducing the plastic waste in these sections of the ocean can be of great help as these seabirds are near-threatened species.

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, almost 90% of all seabirds accidentally consume plastic bits. The number has risen from 5% in 1960 to 80% in 2010 and by the end of 2050, this number will reach 99% if something is not done.

Natural History Museum

Via: CNN/IFLScience

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