Marine debris and seabirds: #seabirdersaturday themed discussion on August 22

#SeabirderSaturday has started themed sessions this summer with each week seeing a new topic being discussed in detail. With each new topic comes a new chair that will help guide and lead discussions. On Saturday August 22nd, 2015 I am excited about leading the group discussions on Marine debris and seabirds.
shetland plastic

We will be covering all litter interactions seabirds may have including ingestion, entanglement and nest incorporation. The aim of the session is to facilitate discussions,  share resources, project ideas, encourage collaborations and potentially identify research topics and partnerships. This is also a primer for our ‘Impacts of Marine Debris‘ session coming up at the 2nd World Seabird Conference in Cape Town in October.

Northern Gannet Funk Is  2  2011 plastic debris B Montevecchi

Themed #SeabirderSaturday session abstract:

As global travellers seabirds are considered important sentinel species of the world’s oceans. While seabirds are primarily in search of food, increasingly marine birds are also ingesting, getting tangled and incorporating into their nests plastics and other marine debris. Although man-made marine debris has likely been entering the oceans for centuries, plastic, the largest component of marine litter, was initially invented in the early 1900s. By 1988, 30 million tons of plastic was produced annually, with this amount increasing almost 10 fold over since that time. Interactions between seabirds and marine plastic were first reported in the 1960s, with reports increasing since this time.

Although reports of litter ingestion was first reported in the 1960s, efforts to standardize, track and monitor the marine debris ingestion by seabirds was pioneered in the North Sea by the ‘Save the North Sea’ group in the early 1990s. While some data series on marine debris ingestion date back to the 1980s, most regions began this phenomenon in the early 2000s. Although initial concerns with marine debris ingestion centered around the physical impacts of ingested debris more recently studies have shown that plastics may also be a vehicle for chemicals, including environmental contaminants shown to have deleterious effects on wildlife. Less work has been done on entanglement and nest incorporation but both have been shown to have negative impacts on seabirds. UNEP has listed marine plastics as an emerging global environmental challenge. Given that seabirds have been shown to be an important group for both environmental monitoring and assessing the impacts of plastics debris on wildlife, seabird research can play a critical role in helping to address and understand this global environmental problem.

Some discussion topics:

  1. What are the best practices for monitoring and assessing debris ingestion in seabirds worldwide given the variety of: a) seabird foraging strategies, and thus ingestion rates; b) retention of debris; c)methods of bird collections available; and d)method of assessing plastic interactions?
  2. What effects are ghost nets having on seabird populations globally?
  3. How do we best assess the impacts of debris on seabirds, both physically and chemically?
  4. What is the fate of ‘bio’plastics in the environment and the digestive system of seabirds? Does it break down?
  5. What long terms studies are available for debris interactions, and what do they tell us?
  6. What are the emerging questions about plastics that seabird researchers should focus on?
  7. How do we take information collected to better make population level assessments?
  8. What geographical areas are lacking in data and coordinated efforts that should be focused on?
  9. How do we incorporate plastics at sea data into spatial modelling of seabird threats?
  10. Are regional assessments or summaries of plastic interactions useful to science? To policy makers?
  11. What form should marine litter data be presented in to be the most useful to policy makers?

Key References to read:

Bond, A.L., Montevecchi, W.A., Guse, N., Regular, P.M., Garthe, S. & Rail, J.F. (2012) Prevalence and composition of fishing gear debris in the nests of northern gannets (Morus bassanus) are related to fishing effort. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64, 907-911.

Bond, A.L., Provencher, J.F., Elliot, R., Ryan, P.C., Rowe, S., Jones, I.L., Robertson, G. & Wilhelm, S. (2013) Ingestion of plastic marine debris by common and thick-billed murres in the Northwest Atlantic from 1985 to 2012. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 77, 192-195.

Cadee, G.C. (2002) Seabirds and floating plastic debris. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 44, 1294-1295.

Good, T.P., June, J.A., Etnier, M.A. & Broadhurst, G. (2010) Derelict fishing nets in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits: patterns and threats to marine fauna. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 60, 39-50.

Provencher, J.F., Bond, A.L. & Mallory, M.L. (2015) Marine birds and plastic debris in Canada: a national synthesis and a way forward. Environmental Reviews, 23, 1-13.

Ryan, P.G. (2008) Seabirds indicate changes in the composition of plastic litter in the Atlantic and south-western Indian Oceans. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 56, 1406-1409.

Ryan, P.G. (2015) A brief history of marine litter research. Marine Anthropogenic Litter (eds M. Bergmann, L. Gutow & M. Klages). Springer International, New York.

Ryan, P.G., Moore, C.J., van Franeker, J.A. & Moloney, C.L. (2009) Monitoring the abundance of plastic debris in the marine environment. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 364, 1999-2012.

van Franeker, J.A., Blaize, C., Danielsen, J., Fairclough, K., Gollan, J., Guse, N., Hansen, P.L., Heubeck, M., Jensen, J.K., Le Guillou, G., Olsen, B., Olsen, K.O., Pedersen, J., Stienen, E.W.M. & Turner, D.M. (2011) Monitoring plastic ingestion by the northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis in the North Sea. Environmental Pollution, 159, 2609-2615.

Vegter, A.C., Barletta, M., Beck, C., Borrero, J., Burton, H., Campbell, M.L., Eriksen, M., Eriksson, C., Estrades, A., Gilardi, K., Hardesty, B.D., Ivar do Sul, J.A., Lavers, J.L., Lazar, B., Lebreton, L., Nichols, W.J., Ribic, C.A., Ryan, P.G., Schuyler, Q.A., Smith, S.D.A., Takada, H., Townsend, K.A., Wabnitz, C.C.C., Wilcox, C., Young, L. & Hamann, M. (2014) Global research priorities for the management and mitigation of plastic pollution on marine wildlife. Endangered Species Research, 25, 225-247.

Yamashita, R., Takada, H., Fukuwaka, M.A. & Watanuki, Y. (2011) Physical and chemical effects of ingested plastic debris on short-tailed shearwaters, Puffinus tenuirostris, in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62, 2845-2849.

For more information see #SeabirderSatruday on Twitter and the discussion board on the World Seabird Union page (

*Gannet picture courtesy of W. Montevecchi.

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