Plastics, those indestructible relics of our throwaway culture, are omnipresent in the oceans, making their way into everything from sea salt to seabirds. Now, a new study finds seabirds may be giving back, shuttling particles from ocean garbage gyres back to shore in their poop. Around colonies where seabirds congregate, the pungent white streaks may form halos of plastic pollution—contaminating soil and potentially cycling back into the sea.
The study, conducted on northern fulmars in the frigid waters off Canada’s Labrador Peninsula, is the first to measure plastics in seabird guano. The idea arose when a group of researchers studying plastic ingestion by seabirds were having coffee and pondering where the junk they found stuffing birds’ stomachs might ultimately wind up.
“We thought, let’s take a look in there and see what we find at the end of their gastrointestinal tract,” says Jennifer Provencher, a marine ecologist at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and lead author on the paper.
Local Inuit hunters collected 30 of the stocky gull-like seabirds, which nest by the tens of thousands in the rocky cliffs of Baffin Island, Nunavut.
Photo: Dawn Beattie/Wikimedia Commons