Beautiful Science


A great frigate bird tangled in plastic in the Desventuradas Islands, Chile. Plastic gathered from remote corners of the South Pacific Ocean, even nesting areas of New Zealand albatrosses, has confirmed the global threat of such pollution to seabirds.

The study used data gathered by Canterbury Museum senior curator of natural history Paul Scofield and Wellington ornithologist Christopher Robertson, and looked for patterns in the plastics seabirds from around the South Pacific ingest.

Said Dr Robertson, co-author of the study that was published in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine And Freshwater Ecosystems: "One of the interesting takeaways... is that it shows you just how far plastic can travel in the ocean. Some of the areas where we collected the plastic are very remote. To me, that shows that this is a global issue; it's not something a single country can solve on its own."

The results confirm that even seabirds in one of the most remote areas of the world are strongly affected by this global plastic pollution problem, highlighting the need for urgent solutions.

In the late 1990s and 2000s, field workers gathered thousands of pieces of plastic from albatross nesting sites on the Chatham Islands, Campbell Island and Taiaroa Head in Otago. The birds swallowed most of the plastic while foraging at sea and then regurgitated it at the nesting sites as they tried to feed their chicks.

The ingestion of marine plastics is a major issue for seabird conservation and will affect most seabird species by 2050, according to estimates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2020, with the headline 'Beautiful Science'. Print Edition | Subscribe