Manx shearwaters on Skomer Island in Wales eat flakes and tiny pieces of plastic, scientists have found, raising concerns that plastic ingestion is becoming widespread among this seabird species .
A team of British researchers examined the stomach contents of 34 adult and young birds found dead on the island.
The team found that nine out of 12 baby birds and 15 out of 22 adult birds had ingested at least one piece of plastic.
In total, the birds had swallowed more than 70 individual pieces of plastic – all smaller than 5mm, the scientists said.
Dr Louise Gentle, a wildlife conservation researcher at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: ‘The majority of birds had at least one piece of plastic in their gastrointestinal tract .
“Our study shows that Manx shearwaters on Skomer Island are vulnerable to plastic ingestion and that adults are likely to pass plastic on to their chicks.
“We even found glitter in one of the birds.
“It was shocking to see so much plastic in the chicks in the first weeks of life.”
Skomer Island, located off the coast of Pembrokeshire, is home to around half of the world’s population of Manx shearwaters.
About 440,000 pairs of Manx shearwaters breed on Skomer and the neighboring island of Skokholm.
Manx shearwaters are surface feeders, so researchers think they might be vulnerable to ingesting floating plastic.
Scientists have found clear, yellow plastics in the stomachs of adult birds, suggesting the pieces may have been mistaken for prey.
These microplastics could be debris from fishing gear, the researchers said, adding that Manx shearwaters may have ingested the bits away from Skomer as they forage in the seas off Wales, North America. Ireland, England and North West Scotland.
These seabirds also spend the non-breeding season in the South Atlantic off the coasts of Argentina and Uruguay, and therefore may have ingested plastics during their journey, the scientists added.
Another possibility scientists are considering is that Manx shearwaters may indirectly ingest plastics when they consume prey that eats plastics.
Dr Matt Wood, a lecturer in biology at the University of Gloucestershire who coordinated the study, said: “We need to know more about what’s going on here.
“While these are small amounts and nothing like the amounts some seabirds can carry, where plastic pollution is worse – like in the Pacific – that doesn’t mean it has no effect. .”
Lisa Morgan, Islands and Marine Manager at the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, who was involved in the study, said: “The microplastics within these iconic birds reflect the global plastic crisis currently affecting our precious marine life.
“This is of concern, not just for the well-being of seabirds themselves, but for the entire marine ecosystem on which they depend.
“Scientists estimate that 99% of seabirds could have plastic in their stomachs by 2050 if we continue in the same direction.
“It’s vital that we all reduce the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives and call on the government to take a tough stand against plastic.”
The research was published recently in the journal Seabird.