Plastic debris – curse of the albatross

Marie Y. Azzarello & Edward S. Van Vleet, 1987. Marine birds and plastic pollution. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser., 37: 295-303.

Abstract: The intrinsic properties and widespread presence of plastic particles in the marine environment have profound effects on birds inhabiting the world’s oceans. Industrial and user-plastics composed of polystyrene, polypropylene, polyethylene, styrofoam, and polyvinyl chloride are the most prevalent forms of plastic marine pollution.

Their dispersal and accumulation, in average densities of 1000 to 4000 pieces km-2, are controlled by surface currents, wind patterns, and different geographic inputs. Seabirds in the order Procellariiformes are most vulnerable to the effects of plastic ingestion due to their smaller gizzard and their inability to regurgitate ingested plastics.

Planktivores have a higher incidence of ingested plastics than do piscivores as the former are more likely to confuse plastic pellets with copepods, euphausiids, and cephalopods. Hence, diet may be a major factor determining the quantity of plastic ingested. Physiological effects related to the ingestion of plastics include obstruction of the gastrointestines and of subsequent passage of food into the intestines, blockage of gastric enzyme secretion, diminished feeding stimulus, lowered steroid hormone levels, delayed ovulation and reproductive failure.

As plastic manufacture and use increases and subsequent disposal at sea becomes more extensive, the impact of dscarded plastic on birds inhabiting the marine environment may also be expected to increase.

Download the pdf of the paper here.


Royal Albatross (Diomedea sanfordi, Order Procellariiformes),
Otago Peninsula (off Dunedin), New Zealand.
Photo by Anita Gould.
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