Today is World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD). World Migratory Bird Day is an annual awareness-raising campaign highlighting the need for the conservation of migratory birds and their habitats. It has a global outreach and is considered an effective tool to help raise global awareness of the threats faced by migratory birds, their ecological importance, and the need for international cooperation to conserve them.
This year the chosen theme is “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution”. ACAP is supporting this theme by making the following statement which was featured on the WMBD’s website on 10 March, along with statements from other key World Migratory Bird Day supporters and partners from around the world (click here).
“Albatrosses and their kin are pelagic seabirds which mainly breed on remote oceanic islands and forage over the open sea. They can travel enormous distances across oceans during foraging flights and migratory journeys, crossing international boundaries and venturing onto the High Seas. They feed on live prey or by scavenging at or near the sea surface. Unfortunately, all the species so far studied are prone to seizing and ingesting pieces of floating plastic. A wide range of such items has been found in their stomachs, from plastic bags, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, plastic straws, bottle tops and toy soldiers to fragments of latex balloons and Styrofoam, and even the sole of a shoe: the list seems endless. Concern has also been expressed at the harmful effects of chemicals that may leach out of swallowed plastic.
Ingested plastic can be fed to chicks by regurgitation from their parents, accumulating in stomachs, leading to a false feeling of satiation that could cause fledging underweight with a lower chance of subsequent survival. Larger plastic pieces ingested can cause injury to the alimentary canal. Birds can starve to death if foraging or swallowing prey is overly hindered by ingested plastic.
Solving the problem of plastic ingestion by seabirds needs a broad-based approach, tackling marine litter at source and reducing single-use plastic. ACAP will continue to support studies of plastic pollution in albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters and will continue to draw attention to the problem through its website and by Facebook postings.”
Whereas plastic ingestion can cause harm at the individual level as described in the above statement, its effects at the population level are harder to judge and require further studies.
Plastic items (including a cigarette lighter) withn the cavity of a decomposing Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis chick on Midway Atoll
Photograph by Chris Jordan
Christine Bogle, ACAP Executive Secretary & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 May 2019