90pc of seabirds are eating plastic, hitting 99pc by 2050 – report

1 Sep 2015

Penguins are among those under threat from eating plastic

In a major new study it has been discovered that 90pc of all seabirds have consumed plastic, with the likes of albatrosses and penguins now in trouble.

The research shows that just 5pc of seabirds had eaten plastic in 1960, rising to 80pc five years ago, with today’s results posing a serious threat to wildlife.

The likes of plastic bags, bottle caps and synthetic fibres from clothes litter the seas around the world, with their appearance confusing birds into thinking they are food, which can cause illness and death.

Researchers from CSIRO and Imperial College London argue that seabirds are a fine indicator for the health of an ecosystem, so results like this should be troubling – they claim it could rise to as many as 99pc of seabirds by 2050.

animals eating plastic

A red-footed booby on Christmas Island, via CSIRO

“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,” said Dr Chris Wilcox, senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere.

Animals eating plastic bad for us

This is a growing problem. Back in June, zooplankton was caught on film eating waste plastic from oceans. This ultimately means we are eating plastic ourselves, with the food chain eventually leading to our plates.

A report last February showed that, each year, we as a species are throwing 8m tonnes of plastic into the ocean and are contributing to problems like the ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ that exists in the centre of the Pacific Ocean.

animals eating plastic

Plastic in the Indian Ocean, via CSIRO

“We are very concerned about species such as penguins and giant albatrosses, which live in these areas,” Erik van Sebille said.

“While the infamous garbage patches in the middle of the oceans have strikingly high densities of plastic, very few animals live here.”

The biggest risk is posed to those seabirds gathering around the southern part of the world, around the bottom of Australia, South Africa and South America.

Unfortunately, this means plastic will have the heaviest impact on areas with the greatest diversity, with researchers finding some birds with up to 200 pieces of plastic inside them.

Main image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic