Mutton birds widely affected by plastics in our oceans.
During October a major stranding of shearwaters known as 'mutton birds', occurred along the south-east of Australia while they were making their annual migration from Siberia to Tasmania . While it is common to see mutton bird strandings at this time of year, the number of birds affected (some 1400 deceased birds were counted along the 33 kilometres of North Stradbroke’s main beach alone) indicates that a severe weather incident along the eastern seaboard was the cause.
For our ‘Turtles in Trouble’ research team working on North Stradbroke Island, this unfortunate event did provide a unique opportunity. Given that the birds died from a weather event rather than from rubbish ingestion, this was a chance for research teams to collect a random sample of the population to find out what proportion (if any) ingests rubbish, particularly plastics.
University of Queensland PhD student Qamar Schuyler collected 100 deceased birds and Earthwatch volunteers assisted with the analysis of 50 birds over two days. This was an enormous effort and could not have been done without the help of the volunteers.
Unfortunately, many different types of plastic were found in the birds’ gastrointestinal systems– pieces of hard plastic, small plastic pellets, string and several balloons. This confirms that plastics are having a widespread affect on the inhabitants of our oceans, from turtles through to seabirds.
The next Turtles in Trouble team is on 19 April, sign up today.
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