since moved to the National University of Singapore.">

By Steve Pointing 03/09/2015


A synthesis of data spanning over 60 years has revealed an alarming increase in the number of seabirds that have ingested plastic.

An Australian-led study published this week in PNAS (abstract only without a subscription) shows that whilst the number of seabirds that had eaten plastic was 5% in 1950, by 2010 this had risen to 80%, and is likely to approach 99% by 2050.  Ingested plastic prevents the birds from eating and digesting food and so sadly many face death by starvation in the long term.

Seabirds live in coastal areas and since around 80% of marine plastic is discharged from land they are literally living in a global human trash can.  Even more disturbing for our part of the world is that the Southern Ocean – Tasman Sea interface was one of the worst hotspots.

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Not just birds

The plastics problem is also by no means restricted to birds. A 2013 study in Environmental Science & Technology (abstract only without a subscription) showed that the gills of shore crabs retained micro-plastics, tiny spherical particles derived from weathered styrofoam.

One of the major sources of domestic plastic waste is food packaging – so next time you go the supermarket please do consider the amount of packaging in a product as well as price, appearance and whether or not it is organic – sadly many ‘organic’ products are just as wasteful in terms of packaging as other products.

I discuss this issue and more on my Dear Science show this week on 95 bFM radio.

Image credit: Max Gustafson