Candy wrappers, styrofoam and other debris showing up in high percentage of dead birds along West Coast
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite its vastness the Pacific Ocean is not immune to increases in plastic pollution, with concentrations off the coast of the Pacific Northwest reaching the level of the notoriously polluted North Sea, near the densely populated coast of northern Europe.
A new study led by a University of British Columbia researcher focused on the stomach contents of seabirds beached along the coastline from Canada down through Washington and Oregon.
The research group closely examined 67 dead northern fulmars and found that 92.5 per cent had plastics like twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers in their stomach. On average, each of the dead birds contained 36.8 pieces. The average total weight of plastic was 0.385 grams per bird. One bird was found with 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.
The birds foraging exclusively at sea, Any plastics they happen to ingest stay with them for extended periods of time, making them ideal indicators for marine litter.
Similar studies in Europe have been used to monitor North Sea plastic pollution since the 1980s. The latest findings suggest a substantial increase in plastic pollution during the past four decades.
“Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans,” says Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in UBC’s Department of Zoology. “Their stomach content provides a ‘snapshot’ sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.”
“The average adult northern fulmar weighs five pounds, or 2.25 kilograms,” says Avery-Gomm. “While 0.385 grams in a bird may seem inconsequential to us, it’s the equivalent of about five per cent of their body mass. It would be like a human carrying 50 grams of plastic in our stomach – about the weight of 10 quarters.”
“Despite the close proximity of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch,’ an area of concentrated plastic pollution in the middle of the North Pacific gyre, plastic pollution has not been considered an issue of concern off our coast,” says Avery-Gomm, “But we’ve found similar amounts and incident rates of plastic in beached northern fulmars here as those in the North Sea. This indicates it is an issue which warrants further study.”
The researchers propose annual monitoring of trends in plastic pollution and the effectiveness of marine waste reduction strategies.
“Beached bird surveys are providing important clues about causes and patterns of sea bird mortality from oil spill impacts, fisheries by-catch and now plastic ingestion,” said co-author Karen Barry with Bird Studies Canada, a not-for profit organization that helped facilitate the study.
The study was published online in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Filed under: Environment, Marine biology, ocean conservation Tagged: | Bird Studies Canada, Environment, Fulmar, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, North Sea, Pacific Ocean, plastic pollution, pollution, University of British Columbia