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Plastic Pollution Threatening Seabirds

May 13, 2014 04:29 PM EDT

Ocean-side plastic pollution, specifically plastic ingestion, is threatening seabirds according to a study published on Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Plastic ingestions affects around 94 percent of Cory's shearwaters, a type of seabird, on the Catalan coast. In the case of Yelkouan shearwaters and Balearic shearwaters, the report states that 70 percent of studied birds were affected by plastic ingestion.

Plastic pollution is a known threat to marine ecosystems around the world, yet lead researcher Jacob González Solís explained in a statement that "this is the first assessment of plastic ingestion in Mediterranean seabirds. The Mediterranean Sea has been recognized as a singularly sensitive ecosystem because its coast is very industrialized, shipping activity is intense and it contains high density floating plastic areas."

Floating plastic debris can produce entanglement, ulcers, infections and death to marine animals. Seabirds and other marine life usually mistake plastic fragments for food, or they eat it indirectly through their prey (which has already ingested it). Ingested fragments include filaments, plastic spheres, laminar plastic and industrial pellets.

The University of Barcelona team studied nine particularly endangered seabird species, and results showed that 66 percent of them had at least one piece of plastic in their stomachs.

"Results are alarming," Gónzalez Solís emphasized. "All three of the worst affected are of conservation concern, particularly the Balearic shearwater, which is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The study proves that plastic trash - most of it from recreational activities - enters oceans' food chain and may become a new threat for marine ecosystems and seabirds in particular, which are most affected.

González Solís insists that this abundance of human-made trash necessitates stricter regulations of trash disposal.

"Plastic floats and is difficult to degrade," he points out. "Eventually, all pollutants which are not destroyed on land arrive to the sea. The sea is not a rubbish bin. The control over plastic production and transportation at industrial level has probably improved, but there is an urgent need to develop stricter controls on waste dumping and prohibit ships' discharge into the sea."

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