It is impossible that you’ve missed the gruesome series of photos depicting seabirds and marine wildlife entangled in plastic that increasingly floods and pollutes the world’s seas and oceans.
For most of us, looking at these photos is a painful experience, and a new awareness raising signal. To this extent, a new paper authored by Dr. Chris Wilcox, Dr. Denise Hardesty with the CSIRON – Australia and Dr. Erik van Sebille with the Imperial College – London is even more shocking.
The study, published in the PNAS journal and stemming as a result of the Ocean Conservancy at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis – UC, Santa Barbara – Working Group took a closer look at how plastic in the world’s oceans and seas is bound to affect seabirds.
The findings are gruesome indeed. Plastic pollution and its effects on seabirds and marine wildlife is global and pervasive.
A previous study of the same Working Group showcased how 17 billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean yearly. Most of this polluting tide comes from Asia. Yet, the picture is not complete without the effects this tide has.
Making use of other publications and historical data concerning the presence of plastic in 135 seabird species worldwide, the authors of the paper concluded that if affirmative and defensive action is not taken to stop this dangerous trend, by 2050 99 percent of the seabird species worldwide will have plastic in their stomachs, which will lead to rapid extermination.
And while there is an ongoing debate over the extent to which plastic is polluting the ocean, the body of evidence suggesting that species are affected worldwide and not just in what we conceive as the typical garbage patches of the oceans is growing just as rapidly.
This paper suggests that in the Tasman Sea, found between Australia and New Zealand, seabirds could be most affected. And this patch of the Southern Ocean is not on the list of typical garbage patches, being considered quite clean in fact.
Historically, ocean contamination with plastic has been constant at about 26 percent. Nowadays, the rate increased to 65 percent and with this ascending trend, 95 percent of seabird individuals could be contaminated with plastic by 2050.
The disturbing images of the albatross wrapped in plastic have gone viral. And perhaps just as quickly forgotten. Just that this study draws an alarm signal not just for the albatross, but for all seabird species, including auklets, fulmars, penguins, pelicans.
All the plastic that is thrown and ends up in the ocean is not restrained to a patch that could easily be cleaned. It floats in all corners of the oceans. The effects it has on ecosystems is horrendous. Plastic contaminates the food web and negatively impacts both directly and indirectly the health of fish and bird species, as well as ours. Think about enjoying your fish dinner knowing it comes from a garbage patch in the ocean.
Decisive and committed action must be taken for this tide of plastic contamination to stop. Both personal choices and industry decisions matter.
Photo Credits: conservationmagazine.org