The use of beached bird surveys for marine plastic litter monitoring in Ireland

Marine plastic litter has become a major threat to wildlife. Marine animals are highly susceptible to entanglement and ingestion of debris at sea. Governments all around the world are being urged to monitor litter sources and inputs, and to mitigate the impacts of marine litter, which is primarily composed of plastics. European policies, such as Oslo-Paris Convention (OSPAR) and Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) have adopted the monitoring of a seabird species, the Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), as an environmental quality indicator through the analysis of stomach contents of beached Fulmar specimens. The aims of this research were to: firstly set a baseline investigation of multispecies of seabirds in Ireland affected by the ingestion of litter and, secondly to investigate the feasibility of using Fulmar and/or other potential species of seabird as an indicator for marine debris in Ireland through beached bird surveys. Within 30 months, 121 birds comprising 16 different species were collected and examined for the presence of litter. Of these, 27.3% (n = 33) comprising 12 different species were found to ingest litter, mainly plastics. The average mass of ingested litter was 0.141 g. Among 14 sampled Northern Fulmars, 13 (93%) had ingested plastic litter, all of them over the 0.1 g threshold used in OSPAR and MSFD policy target definitions. Results show that seabirds in Ireland are ingesting marine litter, as in many other countries in the world. Monitoring seabird litter ingestion has the potential to form part of a wider marine litter monitoring programme that can help to inform mitigation and management measures for marine litter.

Heidi Acampora, Olga Lyashevska, Jan Andries Van Franeker, Ian O’Connor, Marine Environmental Research, Volume 120, September 2016, Pages 122–129

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