Some birds in the North Sea clearly have an affinity for plastic. For marine biologist Richard Thompson, it's one example of the danger from the increasing amounts of plastic debris in the oceans.
Sea birds have been known to mistake bits of plastic for food, and most of those birds that wash up on shore have a lot of plastic in their stomachs, relative to their small size, he said.
If they were human-sized, they'd have an average of more than 4 pounds of plastic in their bellies, said Thompson, a professor at the University of Plymouth in England, and a researcher on marine pollution issues. He spoke at the Plastic Debris, Rivers to Sea Conference, held Sept. 7-9 in Redondo Beach.
The amount of synthetic particles in the oceans is increasing sizably, as measured by samples of sea water taken from merchant ships along regular routes since the 1960s, Thompson said. He said researchers estimate that 8 million items of litter enter the ocean each day, and most of those are plastic.
Thompson, who has attended meetings on marine debris in the United Kingdom, said the U.S. debate is more advanced because cooperation among interest groups appears to be stronger.