A new study inspired by a working group at NCEAS estimates that almost all seabirds have eaten plastic
Plastic debris in the ocean has been an environmental issue for almost half a century. Now, for the first time, scientists can predict the global impact of plastics on avian marine species -- and it isn't pretty.
A study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that 90 percent of individual seabirds alive today have consumed some form of plastic. "This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution," said lead author Chris Wilcox, a senior research scientist at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship.
Wilcox also contributed to a study published earlier this year that found more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. Both studies were conducted by the same working group at UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and supported by Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy.
"We've known for some time that the magnitude of plastic pollution is daunting," said NCEAS Director Frank Davis. "This study is important in revealing the pervasive impact of that plastic on seabirds."
The researchers found that nearly 60 percent of all seabird species, including albatrosses, shearwaters and penguins, have plastic in their guts. According to co-author Denise Hardesty, who was also a member of the NCEAS working group, seabirds are excellent indicators of ecosystem health. "Finding such widespread estimates of plastic in seabirds is borne out by some of the fieldwork we've carried out where I've found nearly 200 pieces of plastic in a single seabird," she said.
The investigators' analysis of studies published since the early 1960s showed that plastic is increasingly common in seabirds' stomachs. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomachs of less than 5 percent of seabirds; by 2010 that figure had risen to 80 percent. Based on current trends, the scientists predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99 percent of the world's seabird species by 2050.
The plethora of plastic comes from bags, bottle caps and plastic fibers from synthetic clothes that have washed out into the ocean from urban rivers, sewers and waste deposits. Birds mistake the brightly colored items for food or swallow them by accident, causing gut impaction, weight loss and sometimes death.
According to the study, plastics will have the greatest impact on wildlife that gather in the Southern Ocean in a band around the southern edges of Australia, South Africa and South America. These areas are home to widely diverse species. While the infamous garbage patches in the middle of the oceans have higher densities of plastic, fewer birds live in these regions so the impact is reduced.
Hardesty, who works with Wilcox at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, noted that the opportunity still exists to change the impact plastic has on seabirds. "Improving waste management can reduce the threat plastic is posing to marine wildlife," she said.
"Even simple measures can make a difference," Hardesty added. "Efforts to reduce plastics dumped into the environment in Europe resulted in measureable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs in less than a decade. This 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 UCSB's NCEAS. Erik van Sebille of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London was also a co-author.
Julie Cohen | EurekAlert!
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences