Plastic pollution is on the rise in the Pacific Northwest, and seabirds and other ocean-dependent wildlife stand to lose the most, a new study has found.
Scientists tested the stomach contents of beached northern fulmars (an abundant, gull-like seabird) in British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington state to come to their conclusions about Pacifc Northwest pollution levels.
The study, conducted between 2009 and 2010 and published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, found that 92.5% of beached northern fulmars sampled had some amount of plastic in their digestive tracts. One bird had a whopping 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.
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UBC's findings indicate that plastic levels in the Pacific ocean appear to have risen considerably, when compared to previous studies of a similar nature.
“Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans,” said Stephanie Avery-Gomm, lead author of the study, in an article on University of British Columbia's website. “Their stomach content provides a ‘snapshot’ sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean.”
The researchers hope to begin monitoring plastic pollution trends on an annual basis, according to UBC.
Seabirds are notorious for their willingness to eat just about anything, including bottle caps, toothbrushes, and plastic bags. A Monterey Bay aquarium study found 97.5% of albatross chicks on a North Pacific island had plastic in their stomachs.
Seabirds aren't the only animals affected by the ever-increasing amount of plastic bobbing in world seas: plastic marine trash is thought to affect 267 species worldwide, according to a 2002 study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Those numbers include 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all sea bird species, and 43 percent of marine mammal species - and the real numbers may be concealed by the inherent difficulty of observing marine wildlife.
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A 2010 study described in ScienceDaily documented a disturbing-sounding "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," an area of the sea with much greater than average amounts of free-floating plastic junk. Oft-repeated reports that the patch is as big as Texas are, however, false, according to a Oregon State University expert.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium suggests sea-life conscious consumers limit their use of disposable plastic products, avoid styrofoam, and recycle as often as possible, among other eco-friendly suggestions.