Where does all that plastic go? Arctic Fulmars act as biological indicators of marine debris

Jan van Franeker (IMARES, Wageningen-UR, AD Den Burg (Texel), Netherlands) and Kara Law have published open access in the journal Environmental Pollution on ingestion of plastic by the Arctic or Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Fulmars are effective biological indicators of the abundance of floating plastic marine debris. Long-term data reveal high plastic abundance in the southern North Sea, gradually decreasing to the north at increasing distance from population centres, with lowest levels in high-arctic waters.  Since the 1980s, pre-production plastic pellets in North Sea fulmars have decreased by ~75%, while user plastics varied without a strong overall change.  Similar trends were found in net-collected floating plastic debris in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, with a ~75% decrease in plastic pellets and no obvious trend in user plastic.  The decreases in pellets suggest that changes in litter input are rapidly visible in the environment not only close to presumed sources, but also far from land.  Floating plastic debris is rapidly “lost” from the ocean surface to other as-yet undetermined sinks in the marine environment.”

An Arctic Fulmar corpse entangled with a balloon

For three earlier papers on Arctic Fulmars ingesting plastic by Jan van Franeker click here, here and here.

Read more of Jan’s work on plastic ingestion by seabirds here.


van Franeker, J.A. & Law, K.L. 2015.  Seabirds, gyres and global trends in plastic pollution.  Environmental Pollution 203: 89-96.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 17 April 2015

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