A study released by the University of British Columbia shows an alarming rise in plastic pollution off the west coast of North America. The researchers collected 67 beached fulmars from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia then examined their stomach contents for plastic pollution.
Fulmars feed exclusively in the ocean and retain consumed plastic for long periods of time, making them ideal indicators for marine pollution. Of the 67 birds collected by the UBC researchers, an astonishing 92.5% had plastic debris in their stomach.
Even more revolting, the birds had an average of 0.385 grams of plastic in them, 5% of their body mass. The authors compared these numbers with previous studies on the northern fulmar and found that the proportion of birds with plastic debris in their stomachs increased by 34% in the last 40 years.
The mass of plastic ingested by the fulmars have increased as well. In 1969-1977 the northern fulmar had an average of 0.04 grams of plastic in its stomach, now has almost ten times that amount.
As if these trends weren’t disturbing enough, the composition of the plastic in seabirds is changing with time too. Back in the late 1980s the fulmars ingested 35% industrial plastic and 65% user plastics. Now, 96% of the plastics eaten by fulmars are user plastics.
The authors propose that this change may be because user plastics fragment more easily than industrial so those debris are more accessible for consumption. User products such as sheet plastics, discarded bottle caps, and polystyrene foam were all found in stomachs of the fulmars studied.