They might look happy and free, but those seabirds off your bow are probably suffering from plastic poisoning. The vast collections of plastic in our oceans have long been reported by roving sailors and the number of investigations as to their effects on fish and birds are growing. Now there is a new one in waters near Australia, conducted by a Tasmanian researcher, with alarming results.
Watching seabirds is a favourite pastime of many cruising sailors - but did you know most are poisoned?
Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris
Marine Biologist Dr. Jennifer Lavers is leading a number of research projects that are investigating the impacts of marine debris ingestion by Australia’s seabirds.
Daily, more than eight million pieces of plastic enter our oceans, and each day, more than 200 seabird species ingest plastic after mistaking it for food floating on the ocean surface.
Dr Jennifer Lavers and a Flesh-footed Shearwater - 90% are poisoned...
Plastic contains numerous toxic chemicals used during the manufacturing process. It also collects further toxins while floating at sea.
Once ingested, plastic can block or rupture a seabird's digestive tract and leak these toxins into the bird’s blood stream.
The result is ulcers, liver damage, infertility, and in many cases, death.
Dr. Lavers’ ongoing research on Lord Howe Island has found that 90% of Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Puffinus carneipes) have plastic in their stomachs.
Analysis of feathers from these same individuals found more than 40 heavy metals, including mercury and arsenic, in their bodies.
In Tasmania the Short-tailed Shearwater P. tenuirostris also suffers from plastic ingestion.
A new project launched in 2011 and supported by the Tasmanian Museum will investigate whether this species is also at risk from heavy metal contamination and what this means for the local environment.
Read Jennifer's latest paper on her work, 'Trace Element Concentrations in Feathers of Flesh-footed Shearwaters (Puffinus carneipes) from Across Their Breeding Range'. Alexander L. Bond & Jennifer L. Lavers, by http://www.tmag.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/38627/Bond__Lavers_10_-_FFSH_metals.pdf!clicking_here.
She can be contacted via email: Jennifer.Lavers@tmag.tas.gov.au