Guess What 90% of Seabirds Have in Common?
Guess What 90% of Seabirds Have in Common?
Sep 4, 2015
An estimated 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their bellies, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report researchers — Chris Wilcox, Erik Van Sebille and Britta Denise Hardesty — used a mixture of literature surveys, oceanographic modeling and ecological models to predict the risk of plastic ingestion to 186 seabird species globally. Their conclusion:
Impacts are greatest at the southern boundary of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, a region thought to be relatively pristine. Although evidence of population level impacts from plastic pollution is still emerging, our results suggest that this threat is geographically widespread, pervasive, and rapidly increasing.
The fact that there’s plastic inside seabirds’ bellies should come as no surprise considering all we know about plastic pollution clogging our oceans. What’s newly troubling is that previous estimates about the number of seabirds with ingested plastic were much lower. Studies reported between 1962 and 2012 claimed 29 percent of seabirds had plastic in their gut on average. From 29 percent to 90 percent – that’s quite a leap.
Plain and simple, the new study reveals that plastics ingestion is increasing in seabirds, but that’s not all. It also predicts that by 2050 the figure will reach 99 percent of all seabird species. How much plastic is in the world’s oceans, and how dangerous is it for seabirds? Last year a study on the amount of plastic pollution floating around the world’s oceans revealed that an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons, is distributed across the ocean.
How plastic ends up inside seabirds is quite simple: Birds inadvertently feed on plastic floating on the water, mistaking it for food. In terms of its effect on seabirds—it can kill them. For example, one report by scientists studying the stomach content of Laysan Albatross chicks in the Pacific Ocean revealed that 40 percent of Laysan Albatross chicks die before fledging and that the chick’s stomachs were filled with plastic trash.
Ingested plastic debris in seabirds can cause blocking of the digestive tract, impairment of foraging efficiency and the release of toxic chemicals.
Marine biologist Boris Worm explains, “When seabirds are eating things like this, the problem is it can become lodged in their system. Also these things can accumulate toxins from the water up to 1 million-fold.”
The Center for Biological Diversity points out, “Plastic ingestion reduces the storage volume of the stomach, causing birds to consume less food and ultimately starve.”
As the new report clearly states, “the threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive and increasing.” So add this to the list of signs that we’re heading in the wrong environmental direction (like we need another one), and if we want to ensure a healthy future for oceans and its inhabitants, change begins with each one of us and the every day choices we make.
Last year we shared that an estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic are floating in every square mile of our oceans, and that plastic production has increased by more than 500 percent in the last 30 years. Also disturbing: The world has lost about 230 million seabirds in 60 years, which means global seabird populations have dropped 70 percent in that time.
Of course plastic pollution in the ocean isn’t just harmful to seabirds. Fish and other marine animals are ingesting the toxic materials too, including ones that humans consume. So the next time you’re out combing the beach, instead of seashells, consider collecting plastic debris, because it not only ends up in seabirds–a single piece of plastic trash is all it takes to kill a whale.
What else can you do to reduce the number of seabirds that are flying around with plastic inside of them (besides the obvious answers, like curbing your plastic use and not littering)?
NASA Video Reveals How 35 Years of Trash Turned Into Ocean Garbage Patches
The Scientific Visualization Team used computer models to show how plastic and other refuse collects in five spots.
August 31, 2015 By Liz Dwyer
It’s no secret that when all the cigarette butts, food wrappers, Styrofoam coffee cups, plastic bottles, and other trash that gets tossed on the ground washes down storm drains, it ends up in the world’s waterways. Hello, dirty beaches, sick marine life, and ocean garbage patches.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most well known, but there are five gigantic clumps of trash in the world’s oceans. Now, a visualization by NASA shows how all the litter people around world carelessly toss onto streets and sidewalks travels on ocean currents and settles into those five gross globs of drifting detritus. The journey a single-use plastic bottle of water takes as it floats on the waves can’t be tracked with a satellite, so NASA visualized how discarded rubbish moves with the next best thing: buoys.
“We start with data from floating, scientific buoys that NOAA has been distributing in the oceans for the last 35 years, repraesented here as white dots. Let’s speed up time to see where the buoys go,” NASA data analyst Greg Shirah explains in the video above. To move the buoys accurately, NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio uses a computational model, ECCO2, which estimates the circulation and climate of the ocean—sure enough, the buoys end up congregating where there are garbage patches.
Shirah and the rest of his team then add particles—think of those as plastic bags or soda bottle caps—to the visualization. “We release particles evenly around the world and let the modeled currents carry the particles,” he says. “The particles from the model also migrate to the garbage patches.”
Last week, the Ocean Cleanup Project, an enormous floating structure that is designed to clean the trash from the world’s waterways, completed a monthlong expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up,” the structure’s inventor, 21-year-old Boyan Slat, said at a press conference. “It really is a ticking time bomb.”
Plastic waste causes approximately $13 billion in destruction to beaches and ocean habitats, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Add the billions of microbeads being washed down the world’s drains every day to what’s already floating in these five gyres of garbage, and the impact on the food chain could prove to be even more disastrous.
Animal Protection Laws Failing as Large Sea Mammals Decline by 89%
Sep 5, 2015
Despite a host of animal protection laws in place to protect large sea mammals, their numbers are now estimated to have dropped by 89 percent from their natural population baseline.
A case study looking into marine megafauna populations in Madagascar has revealed that despite the fact that on paper these endangered animals are heavily protected, in reality they are offered little to no protection at all.
Many international agreements, including the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), and the Inter-American for the Protection and Conservation Sea Turtles (IAC) all provide significant protection for the animals such as marine turtles, yet enforcement is almost non-existent.
Fishing Practices and Inadequate Hunting Laws Leave Animals Unprotected
Local fishing customs still involve the deliberate capture of marine turtles despite the fact that it is illegal, and larger scale fishing operations are killing numerous large sea mammals as they get caught up in nets and traps intended for fish and crustaceans.
It is easy for governments and environmental agencies to claim that they are offering substantial protection to these endangered species by the creation of laws and regulations, but if they are not actually offering real life protection then they are almost worthless.
A Fish Is a Dolphin, Is a Turtle, Is a Whale
Until the global community can learn to understand that all lives hold equal value, it is going to be impossible to change the situation we are currently in. Our culture and laws actively encourage the capture and murder of countless billions of fish every single year, and the actual numbers are so huge that we don’t even count by individuals, but by the tonne.
We spend huge sums of money trying to protect certain creatures from being killed, while simultaneously subsidizing the deaths of billions of others, and this is causing more deaths to all animals. It is impossible to effectively protect marine mammals from being killed in an environment where we are trawling through the seas with huge nets intended to capture and kill other marine species.
The life of a tuna, cod or mackerel is no less important than that of a marine turtle, dolphin or whale. Until we realize this, nothing is going to change.
A Completely Fresh Approach to Conservation Is Needed, Not Another Ineffective Law
Current systems of conservation have proven themselves to be ineffective, and if we’re serious about protecting the lives of endangered species such as marine turtles then we need a complete overhaul of the way that we look at the world.
To prevent these magnificent creatures vanishing from our oceans altogether, we need to start viewing our activities in a more holistic way. When we put nets into the sea we’re invading a complex marine environment and disrupting a delicate ecosystem. In order to save endangered species, we need to stop invading their environments to take what we want from them.
We only have to look at the connection between our fishing activities, the levels of natural fish stocks, and the rise in endangered marine mammal species to know that our eating habits are responsible for the problems, and a few animal protection laws are not going to save them.