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Seabirds affected by plastic pollution in Pacific Northwest


Vancouver, BC – Plastic pollution off the northwest coast of North America is reaching a very high level according to a new study led by a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

The study, published online in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, examined stomach contents of beached northern fulmars on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon, U.S.A.

Northern fulmars forage exclusively at sea and retain ingested plastics for a long period of time, making them ideal indicators for marine littering. Analysis of beached fulmars has been used to monitor plastic pollution in the North Sea since the 1980s. Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in UBC’s Department of Zoology said, “Their stomach content provides a ‘snapshot’ sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.” The latest findings, when compared to previous similar studies, indicate a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades.

The research group performed necropsies on 67 beached northern fulmars and found that 92.5 per cent had plastics, such as twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers, in their stomach. An average of 36.8 pieces per bird with the average total weight of plastic was 0.385 grams per bird were found. One bird was found with 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach. “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.”

The study is available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X12001828