JOURNAL ARTICLE

Seabirds indicate changes in the composition of plastic litter in the Atlantic and south-western Indian Oceans

Peter G Ryan
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2008, 56 (8): 1406-9
18572198
I compare plastic ingested by five species of seabirds sampled in the 1980s and again in 1999-2006. The numbers of ingested plastic particles have not changed significantly, but the proportion of virgin pellets has decreased 44-79% in all five species: great shearwater Puffinus gravis, white-chinned petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis, broad-billed prion Pachyptila vittata, white-faced storm petrel Pelagodroma marina and white-bellied storm petrel Fregetta grallaria. The populations sampled range widely in the South Atlantic and western Indian Oceans. The most marked reduction occurred in great shearwaters, where the average number of pellets per bird decreased from 10.5 to 1.6. This species migrates between the South and North Atlantic each year. Similar decreases in virgin pellets have been recorded in short-tailed shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris in the Pacific Ocean and northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis in the North Sea. More data are needed on the relationship between plastic loads in seabirds and the density of plastic at sea in their foraging areas, but the consistent decrease in pellets in birds suggests there has been a global change in the composition of small plastic debris at sea over the last two decades.

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