Seabirds often mistake brightly colored items tossed into the waters for food and end up swallowing them, due to which researchers now believe that 99% of such birds like penguins, gulls and albatrosses will have plastic in their guts by 2050. As per an estimate, nearly 90% of such birds alive today have already consumed plastic in some form or the other.
The plastic inside their bodies includes bottle caps, bags and plastic fibers from synthetic clothing pumped into the oceans from sewers and urban rivers. Accidentally ingested plastic items like these cause gut impaction and weight loss in birds and might even lead to death in extreme cases.
The research team drawn from the Central Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia, and Imperial College London have based their inferences on published studies since the early 1960s. Less than 5% seabirds in 1960 had plastic in their gut in 1960, a figure which had risen sharply to an alarmingly high 80% by 2010.
“For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species – and the results are striking,” senior research scientist at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Oceans and Atmosphere Dr Chris Wilcox said.
“We predict, using historical observations, that 90 per cent of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution,” said Wilcox.
Seabirds will be worst affected in the belt around the Southern Ocean, southern edges of Australia, South America and South Africa, believes Dr Denise Hardesty from CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere.
Dr Erik van Sebille from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London said, “While the infamous garbage patches in the middle of the oceans have strikingly high densities of plastic, very few animals live here.”
However, all is not lost and we can still limit the extent of damage already caused to these hapless birds, pointed out Dr Hardesty from CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere. She underlined the need to improve waste management in order to reduce the plastic induced threat to marine wildlife.