Red billed gull at Taiaroa Head

Image: DOC

Introduction

Why do seabirds eat plastic? Learn why, as well as some tips on reusing this Plastic Free July.

Date:  19 July 2018

We have all heard of marine plastic being mistaken for food and eaten by wildlife. For sea turtles and certain whales, it is easy for us to imagine why a floating plastic bag is mistaken for, say, a jellyfish. But why on earth are seabirds eating plastic? It sure doesn’t look like squid or fish.

Albatross and their cousins are tricked into eating plastic, too, but it is thought their noses lead them astray. Certain algae grow on plastic which release dimethyl sulfide, the same chemical given off by plankton during a feeding frenzy. With a keen sense of smell, seabirds often hone in on floating plastic since it has the telltale smell of a dinner to come.

Once consumed, indigestible plastic fills the gut of the bird, making them feel full. Perhaps most sinister, the chicks at the nest are fed plastic by their parents during a crucial time in their development. 90% of all seabirds have eaten plastic and death by dehydration or starvation is the result in severe cases.

New Zealand has been called the ‘Seabird Capital of the World.’ More species of seabirds live here than anywhere else in the world, and that means more keen nostrils smelling. So, while New Zealand is not considered among the worst plastic pollution offenders, any plastic in our waters puts our seabirds at an increased risk.

For us on land, giving the plastic already in our homes a second life is always better than chucking it in the bin. Plastic can be a durable, lasting material with plenty of uses. The internet holds a treasure-trove of ideas for how to repurpose unavoidable plastic.

Start by pledging here to Plastic Free July and check out ways we can reuse that unavoidable plastic in our lives.

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