Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to plastic ingestion, a new study states. (Photo: NORDIC/COLD/flickr/cc)

Thanks to Industrial Pollution, 90 Percent of Seabirds Have Plastic in Guts

'I have seen everything from cigarette lighters ... to bottle caps to model cars. I've found toys.'

Nadia Prupis

Up to 90 percent of seabirds are likely to have plastic in their guts, and the risk of ingestion is growing—a result of ever-increasing industrial pollution in the world's oceans, according to a new study published Monday.

Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to plastic ingestion due to their habits of eating floating particles that they mistake for fish eggs, state the authors—a trio of Australian scientists who studied 186 species around the world. The report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, analyzed previous data on seabirds' plastic consumption and used computer models to update those figures, extrapolating that "the ingestion rate would reach 90% of individuals if these studies were conducted today."

"It's pretty astronomical," co-author Denise Hardesty told Al Jazeera. "In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s."

In one case outlined in the report, a short-tailed shearwater bird was found with an entire glowstick and three balloons in its gut.

"I have seen everything from cigarette lighters ... to bottle caps to model cars. I've found toys," Hardesty added.

With industrial production expected to increase, the authors found, plastic ingestion among seabirds will rise in tandem—including in unexpected places.

"The highest area of expected impact occurs at the Southern Ocean boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, which contrasts with previous work identifying this area as having low anthropogenic pressures and concentrations of marine debris," the report states.

As Hardesty explains, that's because those areas have the greatest diversity of seabird species. Meanwhile, other recent scientific reports have also blamed industrial byproduct for the massive amounts of waste that enter the world's oceans every year. The UK alone produces 80 tons of microplastic just from cosmetics, while the Netherlands-based group Ocean Cleanup reported that the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" may be the most polluted marine area in the world.

"I've studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," Dr. Julia Reisser, lead oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup, said last week. "With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic."

But targeted efforts to keep plastic out of oceans is one of the most important and effective methods of preventing the crisis from escalating, Hardesty continued. In Europe, reducing plastic particles in the ocean through cleanup programs and incentives for manufacturers to use recyclable materials, among other endeavors, has already helped one of the species included in the study—the northern fulmar—decrease its intake of such microwaste.

The authors of Monday's study conclude that "plastics ingestion is increasing in seabirds, that it will reach 99% of all species by 2050, and that effective waste management can reduce this threat."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Witness Intimidation. Clear as Day': Jan. 6 Panel Teases Evidence of Cover-Up Effort

"Add witness tampering to the laundry list of crimes Trump and his allies must be charged with," said professor Robert Reich.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Bombshell After Bombshell' Dropped as Jan. 6 Testimony Homes In On Trump Guilt

"Hutchinson's testimony of the deeply detailed plans of January 6 and the inaction of those in the White House in response to the violence show just how close we came to a coup," said one pro-democracy organizer.

Brett Wilkins ·


Mark Meadows 'Did Seek That Pardon, Yes Ma'am,' Hutchinson Testifies

The former aide confirmed that attorney Rudy Giuliani also sought a presidential pardon related to the January 6 attack.

Jessica Corbett ·


UN Chief Warns of 'Ocean Emergency' as Leaders Confront Biodiversity Loss, Pollution

"We must turn the tide," said Secretary-General António Guterres. "A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future."

Julia Conley ·


'I Don't F—ing Care That They Have Weapons': Trump Wanted Security to Let Armed Supporters March on Capitol

"They're not here to hurt me," Trump said on the day of the January 6 insurrection, testified a former aide to ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo