A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found that 90% of all seabirds have ingested plastic debris from the marine environment at some point in their lives. By the year 2050, this number is expected to be as high as 99%. Concentrations of as many as 580,000 pieces of plastic can be found floating in one square kilometer of ocean in some areas.
Swallowing plastic is harmful to birds and many other forms of marine animals, including whales and seals. Pieces of plastic can cause intestinal blockages which can lead to death, and plastic can cause organ damage by releasing toxins into the body. Marine life can also become entangled in plastic lines, netting, and bags.
Researchers studied over 180 species of seabirds for exposure to plastic. Not surprisingly, debris ingestion rates increased with debris exposure rates. However, the birds most likely to be found with plastic in the gut are in the Southern Ocean/Tasman Sea area near Australia and New Zealand, not because of more garbage, but because of large populations of migratory sea birds there.
Based on estimates of increases in the global production of plastic, virtually all seabirds will be expected to ingest some plastic by 2050, unless countries all over the world reduce the production and use of plastic, and also improve their waste management policies, so that less plastic garbage ends up in the world’s oceans.
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