Extra Large Plastic (Top)

Nestling In (Bottom)

Digital Photograph

2019

             It’s just a straw, just a bag, just a cup. To our ecosystem, it’s more than that. It’s suffocating, it’s detrimental, it’s littering our world. Each year there are between 4.8-12.7 million tons of plastic dumped in the ocean.[1] For those of us living in non-coastal regions this statistic doesn’t seem very applicable, but our actions still contribute to this issue. Wind, lakes, rivers, and underground water sources all lead in one way or another to the ocean, carrying our plastics and microplastics[2]. This issue in our ocean effects more than just human life, it’s deteriorating our ecosystem.

               Seabirds like the albatross are victims of plastic waste. After rolling around in the water, plastics develop an algae that releases a chemical detectable to tube-nosed birds (such as the albatross). This chemical attracts the birds and makes them believe the product is food.[3] Seabirds also consume plastic by mistaking the colorful floating pieces as prey.  After consumption, the pieces can cut the stomachs of the birds or other important organs. They can also sit in their stomach undigested. As result of undigested plastic, the birds feel full when they are actually starving. [4] Entanglement is another common way seabirds die from plastic. If entangled in plastic, birds risk drowning, infection, or inability to move leading to starvation and inability to escape natural predators. [5] Though it makes your life easy for now, the impact will last a lifetime.

               It’s significant to reduce plastic waste overall, but in regard to seabirds it is vital. Birds play an important role in the ecosystem from many trophic levels. They maintain a sustainable population of prey and predator species and provide food after death to scavengers. They assist plant reproduction serving as pollinators and seed carriers. [6]The plastic found in bird stomachs ranges from plastic bags, clothing fibers, bottle caps and microplastics broken down by the tumbling ocean current.[7] According to a study at the University of Toronto, the seabird populations have dropped 67% between 1950 to 2010.[8]

 

[1]“How much plastic is in the ocean?” The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, accessed 20, December 2019, https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/quick-questions/how-much-plastic-is-in-the-ocean.html

[2] Daly, Sue, “How does plastic end up in the ocean?” World Wildlife Fund, accessed 20, December, 2019, https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/how-does-plastic-end-ocean

[3] Dr. Dyson, Miranda, “Why do birds eat plastic?” OpenLearn, 26, June 2018, accessed 20 December 2019, https://www.open.edu/openlearn/nature-environment/environmental-studies/why-do-birds-eat-plastic

[4] “Laysan Albatrossess plastic problem,” Smithsonian: Ocean Find Your Blue, accessed 20, December 2019, https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/seabirds/laysan-albatrosses-plastic-problem

[5] “How many birds die from plastic pollution?” World Wildlife Fund, 09 October 2018, Accessed 20, December 2019, https://www.wwf.org.au/news/blogs/how-many-birds-die-from-plastic-pollution

[6] “Birds & Ecosystem Services: The Value of Birds,” Environmental Science.org. accessed 20, December 2019, https://www.environmentalscience.org/birds-ecosystem-services

[7] Parker, Laura, “Nearly Every Seabird on Earth is Eating Plastic,” National Geographic, 2 September 2019, Accessed 20, December 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/09/15092-plastic-seabirds-albatross-australia/

[8]Paleczny, Michelle. Hammill, Edd. Karpouzi, Vasiliki. Pauly, Daniel. “Population Trend of the Worlds Monitored Seabirds: 1950-2010,” PLOS ONE, (9 June, 2015): Abstract.  https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0129342

Extra Large PlasticPlastic hanger tags in bird feeder, Digital Photograph, 2019

Nestling In, Plastic hanger tags adhered together, Digital Photograph 2019

©2020 by Mackenzie Madison