As our fifth week comes to an end on PMI, the island is looking more and more like a seabird colony. More Arctic and Common Terns appear every day, and so do their nests. Last week our first Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill and Black Guillemot eggs were found!
But this week I’d like to talk about something that is more ever present than the seabirds themselves- marine debris. It’s found all over Petit Manan- some so old that the ground has reclaimed it and the vegetation grows through it. It finds itself lodged between rocks impossible to retrieve, and even ends up in the burrows of the birds we are trying to protect. Although the islands on Maine Coastal Islands NWR are closed to the public during breeding season, trash still lines the shores as a constant reminder of our every day impact.
In the first three weeks on Petit Manan, my co-workers and I collected 840 gallons of trash from the shore. This in addition to the 10 tons of marine debris that refuge boat operator, Jim Fortier, and local Maine volunteers remove annually from Petit Manan Point. Some of our most frequent items include disposable plastic water bottles and other single-use plastic bottles. One afternoon I counted to see just how many water bottles we were picking up, and it averaged out to two water bottles every minute. And they just keep coming ashore.
This isn’t just an aesthetic problem. Marine plastics are a growing problem, especially for our seabirds. Plastics don’t biodegrade or decompose into new material, but they do break down. They continue to break down until they become so small that you cannot see them anymore, these are called micro-plastics. These tiny plastics end up being eaten by seabirds, either because their food already has micro-plastics in it, or because of their feeding strategy like those who skim the surface of the water.
Last year the Oceans and Atmosphere Business Unit of Australia released a study warning that by 2020 99% of seabird species will have been found to consume plastics, and of those species 95% of the individual in each species will have consumed plastics. This news spells disaster for seabird species. Consumption of larger plastic items can lead to obstruction of the bird’s digestion system and death, while eating smaller plastics takes up space in the birds’ stomachs reducing their food intake and leads to decreased health conditions and starvation. This has also been shown to reduce the survival of fledgling and juvenile seabirds.
So marine debris is a real problem, and if nothing is done it is projected to only get worse. In the 11 years from 2015 to 2026 we are expected to create as much plastic, as all the plastic that has been produced since its creation. Fixing this is not just a matter of watching your trash on beach trips, but to reconsider what you buy and how you dispose of your waste. The majority of marine debris comes from trash that is transported from far inland areas by rivers.
So my challenge to all you seabird lovers out there is to make a positive change in your life. Take the time to clean up and collect recyclables in an area, because you never know if that trash will make it to the ocean. Use your consumer power and switch from disposable water bottles to a reusable one – by not supporting goods sold in plastic containers you are lessening the demand for those goods in the future. Practice the waste management hierarchy- reduce, reuse, and recycle before ever sending something to the landfill.
Thanks for all your help in protecting in the seabirds we love!
For more information check out these links!
- 10 Ways to Reduce Plastic Pollution by the NRDC
- Marine Debris Fact Sheet by NOAA
- Ocean Trash by National Geographic
- Great Pacific Garbage Patch by National Geographic
- How Plastics Affect Birds by International Bird Rescue
Till next time!