Animal behaviour

Seabirds duped by plastic waste

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It is likely that most seabirds have consumed plastic rubbish floating in the ocean after mistaking it for prey.

Britta Denise Hardesty

Chris Wilcox at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Hobart, Australia, and his colleagues collated published data on the diets of 135 seabird species over the past four decades, including the red-footed booby (Sula sula; pictured) and the Cape petrel (Daption capense).

According to the data, the proportion of birds that had eaten plastic increased by about 1.7% per year. Using this figure, the team predicts that, had these studies been done today, more than 90% of the seabirds would have eaten plastic. By 2050, that could reach 99% if the flow of plastic waste to the seas is not reduced. The researchers found that the area of highest risk was in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2015)

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