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Seabird study shows spike in plastic ocean litter

By: Kerri Jansen

July 6, 2012

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (July 6, 12:30 p.m. ET) — A new study on seabirds reveals surprising levels of plastic pollution off the northwest coast of North America, according to a release from the University of British Columbia.

UBC researchers examined the stomach contents of 67 beached northern fulmars, seabirds similar in appearance to gulls, from the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Because the birds forage exclusively at sea, their stomachs provide a “snapshot” of plastic ocean litter, Stephanie Avery-Gomm, the study’s lead author, said in the release.

Researchers found that 92.5 percent of the birds examined had plastic scraps in their stomach, with an average of .385 grams (.0136 ounces) of plastic per bird, according to the release. That’s equal to about 5 percent of the bird’s body mass.

The report compares that amount to a human carrying 10 quarters in his or her stomach.

Northern fulmars have been used to study pollution since the 1980s. The new data indicate a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past few decades, according to the report.