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Bad diet: Pacific birds eating increasing amount of plastic

It’s a sad fact that many bird species have a propensity for eating plastic. Given the amount of trash strewn throughout the world’s oceans, there’s no shortage of the stuff for animals to choke down. As reported by Treehugger, a new study by a team of American and Canadian scientists has found that seabirds of the North Pacific are consuming alarming amounts of plastic that rank among the highest rates in the world.

“The results are troubling,” said Stephanie Avery-Gomm, an author of the study who along with five other scientists analyzed 67 dead seabirds (known as Northern Fulmars) found on shores from Long Beach all the way up to British Columbia and Vancouver Island. “The large amount of plastic ingested by fulmars from the eastern North Pacific are approaching the high levels which have been documented previously in the historically polluted North Sea, where fulmars have been used as an indicator species of ocean health for decades… It is safe to say, based on earlier studies from the North Pacific, plastic ingestion in Northern Fulmars, and therefore plastic pollution, has increased in the North Pacific over the past forty years.”

The report goes on to detail the myriad of ways plastic harms the birds, from clogging gizzards to sharp edges cutting stomach lining. There is also the danger from the “astounding” amounts of contaminants that plastic can soak up and leach out into a bird that swallows it. Both the amount of plastic consumed and the number of incidents increased from previous studies.

“We have known about this problem for 40 years and not only have we failed to do anything about it, it has actually gotten worse,” said Dr. George Wallace, Vice President for Oceans and Islands at American Bird Conservancy in a statement. “Two things are for certain – one, this problem is not going to go away on its own - it will get worse; and two, developing ways to slow or stop the flow of plastics into the oceans will only get more expensive the longer we wait."