Plastic pollution is reaching alarming levels off the coast of Pacific Northwest, which is just as bad as the notoriously polluted North Sea.
University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers examined stomach contents of beached northern fulmars on the coasts of British Columbia, Canada, and the states of Washington and Oregon.
"Like the canary in the coal mine, northern fulmars are sentinels of plastic pollution in our oceans," says Stephanie Avery-Gomm, graduate student of zoology at the UBC, who led the study, the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin reports.
"Their stomach content provides a 'snapshot' sample of plastic pollution from a large area of the northern Pacific Ocean," adds Avery-Gomm, according to an UBC statement.
Northern fulmars forage exclusively at sea and retain ingested plastics for a long period of time, making them ideal indicators for marine littering. Analysis of beached fulmars has been used to monitor plastic pollution in the North Sea since the 1980s.
The latest findings, when compared to previous similar studies, indicate a substantial increase in plastic pollution over the past four decades.
The research group performed necropsies on 67 beached northern fulmars and found that 92.5 percent had plastics 96 such as twine, Styrofoam and candy wrappers 96 in their stomach. An average of 36.8 pieces per bird were found. The average total weight of plastic was 0.385 grams per bird. One bird was found with 454 pieces of plastic in its stomach.
"The average adult northern fulmar weighs five pounds, or 2.25 kilograms," says Avery-Gomm.
"While 0.385 grams in a bird may seem inconsequential to us, it's the equivalent of about five percent of their body mass. It would be like a human carrying 50 grams of plastic in our stomach."
"Despite the close proximity of the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch,' an area of concentrated plastic pollution in the middle of the North Pacific gyre, plastic pollution has not been considered an issue of concern off our coast," says Avery-Gomm.