A team of global researchers, including MaREI’s Mark Jessop, tracked the movement data of over 7,000 seabirds to identify the areas of the world’s ocean where seabirds would most likely come into contact with plastic.
Plastic pollution is distributed patchily around the world’s oceans. Likewise, marine organisms that are vulnerable to plastic ingestion or entanglement have uneven distributions. Understanding where wildlife encounters plastic is crucial for targeting research and mitigation. Oceanic seabirds, particularly petrels, frequently ingest plastic, are highly threatened, and cover vast distances during foraging and migration. However, the spatial overlap between petrels and plastics is poorly understood. Here we combine marine plastic density estimates with individual movement data for 7137 birds of 77 petrel species to estimate relative exposure risk. We identify high-exposure risk areas in the Mediterranean and Black seas, and the northeast Pacific, northwest Pacific, South Atlantic and southwest Indian oceans. Plastic exposure risk varies greatly among species and populations, and between breeding and non-breeding seasons. Exposure risk is disproportionately high for Threatened species. Outside the Mediterranean and Black Seas, exposure risk is highest in the high seas and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the USA, Japan, and the UK. Birds generally had higher plastic exposure risk outside the EEZ of the country where they breed. We identify conservation and research priorities, and highlight that international collaboration is key to addressing the impacts of marine plastic on wide-ranging species.
The full study is published in the current edition of the science journal, Nature Communications and can be read here.