Marine Debris Predicted to Impact 99% of Seabird Species

A new study published in PNAS shows that since 1960 nearly 60% of all seabirds studied have ingested plastic and around 90% of all seabirds alive today are likely to have consumed plastic at some point during their lifetime.

The NCEAS Marine debris: Scale and impact of trash in ocean ecosystems Working Group synthesized seabird studies dating back to the early 1960’s. The results revealed that plastics are becoming increasingly common in the guts of seabirds and predict that plastic ingestion will affect approximately 99% of all seabird species by the year 2050.

The group’s research pinpointed the most vulnerable areas, determining that the Tasman Sea at the Southern Ocean boundary between Australia and New Zealand, and the southwestern margin of the Indian Ocean are where the greatest impacts will occur.

While it seems that plastic pollution problem is only getting worse, Dr. Hardesty states that there is still hope to reduce the impacts plastics have on seabirds.

“Improving waste management can reduce the threat plastic is posing to marine wildlife,” said Dr. Hardesty, “Even simple measures can make a difference. Efforts to reduce plastics lost into the environment in Europe resulted in measurable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs within less than a decade, which suggests that improvements in basic waste management can reduce plastic in the environment in a really short time.”
Threat of Plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive and increasing
Chris Wilcox, Erik Van Sebille, and Britta Denise Hardesty
PNAS, August 2015, DOI:10.1073/pnas.1502108112


Press Releases:

UCSB Press Release

CSIRO Press Release   

Press Coverage:

The New York Times

National Geographic

Discovery Magazine

US News and World Report

NBC News

Santa Barbara Independent

Plastics Today

Tech Times

Other Products from the Marine Debris Working Group

  • Linking effects of anthropogenic debris to ecological impacts
  • Spatial and temporal patterns of stranded intertidal marine debris: is there a picture of global change?
  • Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean
  • Microplastics in the seas
  • Seabirds, gyres and global trends in plastic pollution

More information about this project's research, participants and publications

Photo credit: Chris Wilcox


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Posted on August 31, 2015