A new study by researchers at the University of Tasmania, the Australian Government Research and Applied Research Institute (CSIRO) and the University of South Australia has found for the first time a relationship between plastic debris ingested by seabirds and the concentration of beneficial minerals in their liver. The results are published in Scientific Reports.
A new study looked at ingested plastic and 11 useful metals in two species of seabirds. As a result, a relationship with the concentrations of aluminum, manganese, iron, cobalt, copper and zinc in the liver of fine-billed prions was found.
Lead author Dr. Lauren Roman of CSIRO and UTAS Institute for Marine and Antarctic Research said the impact was negligible. However, she noted that seabirds already have “enough problems” on the high seas. For example, a lack of production and severe storms. In turn, plastic can exacerbate the effects of other stressors on individuals. It’s about fishing and climate change.
“Our study is the first to show a relationship in seabirds between plastic pollution, which is becoming more prevalent in our oceans, and the concentration of mineral nutrients in the liver,” explains Dr. Roman.
Scientists have linked the presence of several pieces of plastic in the intestines with potential effects on the nutrition of small seabirds and other marine animals. Previously, similar nutritional relationships have already been observed in plastic-eating sea turtles. While more research is needed to better understand the link between gut plastic and seabird nutrition, this is a disturbing discovery for millions of seabirds. An individual with a lot of plastic in its stomach may be worse off and therefore less likely to survive the increased frequency of hurricanes or food chain disruptions that are inevitable in changing climates.
Study co-author Dr. Farzana Kasturi of the University of South Australia noted that while some minerals are an essential part of the poultry diet as essential, some metals can be toxic depending on their type and concentration.
“Potentially toxic elements such as lead and arsenic can adsorb and concentrate on the surface of plastic in the marine environment,” she explains. “Depending on the nutritional status of the seabirds that consume marine plastic, some of these potentially toxic elements can be absorbed, adversely affecting bird health.”