The deadly substance you use every day is killing our seabirds 11



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If you’ve ever watched a majestic seabird soar over the ocean, you’ll be dismayed to know that many of them are dying – and it’s all our fault.

During the period of our lifetime, a deadly substance has invaded the diets of seabirds, and new research suggests that by 2050, just about every bird will have a tummy full of it.

The substance, of course, is plastic, and the first global assessment of how much of this insidious stuff is being consumed by birds has delivered shocking results.

Currently, 90 per cent of the planet’s seabirds have plastic trapped in their guts, compared to just 5 per cent in the 1960s.

No one knows exactly why, but birds eat brightly coloured plastic items and fragments, possibly mistaking them for prey or because they have genuine food attached to them.

Toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, bottle caps and even a doll’s arm are just some of the items on a seabird’s dinner menu these days, according to Dr Chris Wilcox of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

plastic bird

Plastic can be difficult to excrete and is slow to break down, says Wilcox, and toxins in plastics have been linked to egg-thinning. Sharp, plastic can puncture holes in the gut of the birds.

Another issue is that migratory seabirds, such as albatrosses, eat plastic items, which take up room and make them feel full, but leave them without enough nutrition and energy to make it to their destination. The birds end up dying at sea.

One study on Lord Howe Island found that around 10 per cent of the body weight of some birds is plastic.

Obviously we can’t train birds not to eat plastic, so researchers say the only option is to reduce the amount of plastic that reaches outdoor spaces, including rivers, parks, gutters, beaches and marine debris.

“As birds encounter more plastic they’ll have more plastic in their gut and conversely if they encounter less they’ll have less,” says Wilcox.

Previous research suggests there are as many as 580,000 pieces of plastic polluting each square kilometre of the ocean at any one time.

“The doubling time for plastic is around every 11 years. So between 2015 and 2004 we made as much plastic as we did between the time plastic was invented and 2004,” Wilcox says. “The amount will double again between 2015 and 2026.”

Dr Denise Hardesty from the CSIRO, says waste management systems must be improved to save our seabirds, which are crucial to our ecosystem.

“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,” she says.

She said recent efforts in Europe had resulted in measurable changes in the amount of plastic being found in the stomachs of seabirds.

Plastic: do you love it or hate it? What do you think can be done about this terrible situation? 


Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Yep I scream when I hear what feral cats etc are doing to our wildlife when it is we / humankind who cause more destruction than anything /

  2. Just go to a park or camping ground and see the litter people leave behind even when there are bins near by.
    I have also watched a few videos of whales and dolphins being cut free from fishing nets and lines. This is another serious problem for all sea creatures.
    People seem to think litter is someone else’s problem. Well it’s not and if we don’t all take responsibility for our own mess, we will push the planet further towards extinction.

  3. That’s a staggering amount of plastic a square kilometre and we know there are these massive wash pools of plastic that are feet deep that just go round and round with the currents ,in every ocean.Singapore used to spot fine people for littering,and I do think education advertising(what happened to the “Do the Right Thing” Ads they were very effective! )What about No Litter signs everywhere!Then there’s the big stick approach if the littering signs are ignored! Also ban plastic bags,and plastic packaging.

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  4. Its a shame that food items cant be wrapped in brown paper like it was in my very young days – no plastic bags around and one had to take a shopping bag to the shops to carry home goods then. Hey even fish and chips where wrapped in the news paper never killed anyone….

  5. My ex husband was a dedicated bird watcher and he has been saying this for years. Another thing which is a big problem is balloons. I am always appalled when they let hundreds of balloons in the air for a cause, this was done for Daniel Morcombe. Don’t get me wrong I really feel for what that family has gone through but when they let all those balloons go into the air not knowing where they were going to end up really made me cross. Maybe if this article can go viral perhaps people my be a little bit more aware of the dangers these bits face

  6. Those stupid windmills have claimed the lives of thousands of birds. That must be a horrible death, too.

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    • Didn’t know we had windmills. There are thousands of them in Spain and they don’t seemed to have affected the bird life

  7. It would help if all Australian states banned plastic bags at checkouts and we used reusable bags as they do here in SA

  8. Wendy, Altamont wind farm alone In California kills 6 – 18 million birds per annum, including over 100 Golden Eagles. Check out ‘Save our Eagles’ on google.

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