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CSIRO, Imperial College warned 99% seabirds will ingest plastic by 2050

Sep 1, 2015 17:18 IST

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Imperial College London warned that 99 percent of the world's seabird species will be ingesting plastic by 2050 if current marine pollution trends continue.

A study by researchers from the CSIRO and Imperial College London found the percentage of birds consuming plastic in marine environments was increasing at an alarming rate.

The study, led by Dr Chris Wilcox with co-authors Dr Denise Hardesty and Dr Erik van Sebille was published in the journal PNAS on 1 September 2015.

Highlights of the study

  • The study found that nearly 60 percent of all seabird species including albatrosses, shearwaters and penguins have plastic in their gut.
  • Based on analysis of published studies since the early 1960s, the team of researchers found that plastic is increasingly common in seabird’s stomachs. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomach of less than 5 percent of individual seabirds, rising to 80 percent by 2010.
  • The researchers predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99 percent of the world’s seabird species by 2050, based on current trends.
  • The scientists estimate that 90 percent of all seabirds alive today have eaten plastic of some kind, which includes bags, bottle caps, and plastic fibres from synthetic clothes, which have washed out into the ocean from urban rivers, sewers and waste deposits.
  • Ingesting plastic causes gut impaction, weight loss and sometimes even death of the birds.
  • The researchers found plastics will have the greatest impact on wildlife where they gather in the Southern Ocean, in a band around the southern edges of Australia, South Africa and South America.

Solution suggested includes

  • Improving waste management can reduce the threat plastic is posing to marine wildlife
  • Even simple measures can make a difference, such as reducing packaging, banning single-use plastic items or charging an extra fee to use them, and introducing deposits for recyclable items like drink containers.
  • Efforts to reduce plastics losses into the environment in Europe resulted in measureable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs with less than a decade, which suggests that improvements in basic waste management can reduce plastic in the environment in a really short time.

The work was carried out as part of a national marine debris project supported by CSIRO and Shell’s Social investment program as well as the marine debris working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, with support from Ocean Conservancy.

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