Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Silent Spring for Seabirds

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Rachel Carson (Photo: Public Domain)

Rachel Carson's best-selling book Silent Spring gave a grim warning about the dangers of pesticides when it was published in 1962. It correctly predicted that DDT and other pesticides would take a terrible toll on wildlife, and in particular birds. Without birds singing it would be a Silent Spring, and hence the title.  Her book spurred on the environmental movement in a massive way, caused many changes and became a modern classic but it couldn't predict the extreme danger from plastic pollution that was fast approaching. In the 1960s when Carson's book came out less than 5% of seabirds had plastic inside them but by the 1980s it had increased dramatically to 80%.

90% of seabirds have eaten plastic

National Geographic has recently revealed in a shocking report by Laura Parker that today as many as 90% of marine birds have eaten plastic. That means most seagulls, gannets, shearwaters, terns, albatrosses, frigate birds, petrels, kittiwakes, razorbills, boobies, penguins and puffins are likely to have swallowed plastic. The birds mistake plastic for sea creatures and fish with dire results. They are unable to digest plastic, unable to excrete it and so the toxic material accumulates somewhere inside them. As the plastic builds up with each plastic item swallowed so the room for real food gets less. Plastic also contains toxins that can gradually poison a bird to various degrees and lead to its reproductive failure. Sharp-edged plastic items can puncture internal organs and lead to bleeding and death.

Washed up plastic trash (Photo: Public Domain)

This is happening worldwide because waste plastic is being carried down rivers, streams and sewers into the oceans, in addition to the discarded plastic rubbish from ships and left carelessly littering beaches and coastlines. Plastic is washing up on beaches and looks almost like dead fish. Plastic items including bottles, bottle-caps, cups, bags, straws, lighters, spoons, toys and pieces of plastic packaging are floating around or washed onto beaches and look like food to a hungry seabird. 

It is not just at sea because gulls that are so well-suited as scavengers, and which are increasingly colonising our cities and feeding from rubbish dumps are mistaking plastic for food too with disastrous results as can be seen in this video.

Seagull eating a plastic bag

It is estimated that by 2050 every seabird will have eaten plastic!


Remains of a Laysan albatross chick (Photo: Forest & Kim Starr)

The magnificent albatross, in all of the species, is a type of seabird in which plastic pollution is causing widespread fatalities among the chicks. Parent birds are feeding all sorts of plastic items to their hungry babies not knowing that they are actually killing their young ones. The baby birds cannot regurgitate the plastic trash and cannot digest it either. The rubbish accumulates inside them and they become undernourished, stressed and eventually die.  The helpless parent birds can only look on in horror!

The following video shows how bad the situation really is:

Plastic in albatross chicks at Midway Atoll

All types of albatross are recognised as endangered species. Can you imagine a world without these birds? Can you imagine a world without seabirds where we can no longer hear the cry of the seagull?

Seagulls in flight (Photo: Public Domain)

 Can you picture rocky cliffs and islands no longer used as breeding sites for seabird colonies?  Plastic is one of the many serious threats to seabirds of all types and, the way things are going, it looks as if these birds are heading for extinction unless something can be done to halt their decline. 

Whales and turtles

Footage of whale who died after eating plastic bags

And it is not just the seabirds that are in danger because of plastic trash that they eat. Whales and turtles, as well as many other types of marine life are eating the material. Beached and dead whales are being found with masses of plastic bags and other rubbish inside them and turtles too are suffering the same fate of dying after consuming plastic. These marine reptiles eat the material after mistaking it for jellyfish.

Sea turtle eating plastic

No comments: