This week a mansucript I lead was published in the scientific journal Science of the Total Environment (here). In this comment article, my co-authors and I, acknowledge the pervasiveness of plastic pollution and challenge the research community to think creatively about how we can better link plastic ingestion research with wildlife conservation efforts. This is an essential step in an increasingly polluted world, and will enable the development of tools to better predict and manage the impacts of plastic ingestion on vulnerable marine wildlife species.
Plastic is an increasingly pervasive marine pollutant. Concomitantly, the number of studies documenting plastic ingestion in wildlife is accelerating. Many of these studies aim to provide a baseline against which future levels of plastic ingestion can be compared, and are motivated by an underlying interest in the conservation of their study species and ecosystems. Although this research has helped to raise the profile of plastic as a pollutant of emerging concern, there is a disconnect between research examining plastic pollution and wildlife conservation. We present ideas to further discussion about how plastic ingestion research could benefit wildlife conservation by prioritising studies that elucidates the significance of plastic pollution as a population-level threat, identifies vulnerable populations, and evaluates strategies for mitigating impacts. The benefit of plastic ingestion research to marine wildlife can be improved by establishing a clearer understanding of how discoveries will be integrated into conservation and policy actions.
Our study, recently published in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, provides new information on plastic pollution in the western North Atlantic
The Labrador Sea – a chilly body of water between Canada and Greenland in the western North Atlantic - provides important habitat for marine animals and supports important commercial fisheries. Although plastic is now one among one of the most pervasive pollutants on the planet, little is known about plastic pollution in this region.
Due to a small human footprint in the surrounding coastal areas, we hypothesized that the Labrador Sea would have low levels of plastic pollution. Using the northern fulmar, an internationally recognized biological monitor for trends in plastic pollution, we set out to evaluate how plastic pollution here compares to other regions. We found that 79% of fulmars collected from Canadian waters of the Labrador Sea had ingested plastic, but that the amount ingested is lower than many other regions in the Atlantic and Pacific. This suggests that levels of plastic pollution in the Labrador Sea may also be lower. However, despite the low human footprint, the Labrador Sea does not meet the EcoQO marine litter target for 'acceptable ecological quality', and ocean circulation models predict that the Arctic will become another plastic pollution accumulation zone in the future.
I believe it is time for a strategic approach. A coordinated effort to manage waste is needed, and monitoring trends in plastic pollution could help to detect reductions as waste-management strategies come online. This is critical as the rapid loss of sea ice due to climate change and an increase in commercial activities make the area vulnerable to increasing plastic pollution.
Citation: Avery-Gomm, S., Provencher, J. F., Liboiron, M., Poon, F. E., & Smith, P. A. (2017). Plastic pollution in the Labrador Sea: An assessment using the seabird northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis as a biological monitoring species. Marine Pollution Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.10.001
From April 12-14, more than 125 seabird scientists, conservationists and NGOs from all over the world shared research, on Twitter. In case you missed it, here is mine!
We're about to kick off the 3rd World Seabird Twitter Conference (#WSTC3)! It launches in just 2 hours (0:00 UTC) and will run for 3 days.
Twitter Conferences are a carbon friendly and free science communication event exclusively held on Twitter (See our note in Science!). Over the next 3 days seabird researchers, conservationists and NGOs from all over the world will share their work in 6 tweets. Last year, the World Seabird Twitter Conference reached over 2 MILLION people, and I can't wait to see how it will grow given the number of presenters has nearly doubled.
If you want to tune in, and you have a twitter account, look up "#WSTC3" to find and follow presentations. Add this hashtag to your tweets to take part in the conversation. For those without a social media account, you can still view the presentations: head over to Twitter or seabirds.net.
This year's abstract book includes a timetable of >125 presentations, grouped into 22 themed sessions and scheduled across all time zones. This year, thanks to BlackBawks, we also have an online interactive schedule.
To find out, you may want to read a short note recently published in the Journal Oryx, about the progress made on waterbird conservation (including seabirds) during the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) 9th Meeting of the Partners in Singapore, this January. The article highlights emerging priorities and is the 3rd in a series of summaries from the 8th and 7th EAAFP Meeting of the Partners.
One of the EAAFP efforts I will be leading - as a member of the Seabird Working Group - involves an apparent lack of standardized monitoring of waterbirds in the flyway, particularly for shorebirds in South-east Asia and for the flyway's breeding seabirds. As part of my PhD thesis, I will carry out a flyway-wide analysis of population trends and knowledge gaps. If you have or know of seabird colony monitoring efforts in South East Asia (i.e., surveyed 2+ times with comparable methods), please get in touch!
Gallo-Cajiao, E., Jackson, M.V., Avery-Gomm, S. and Fuller, R.A. (2017) ‘Singapore hosts international efforts for conserving migratory waterbirds in the Asia-Pacific’, Oryx, 51(2), pp. 206–207. doi: 10.1017/S0030605317000163.
"The Critically Endangered Chinese crested tern (Thalasseus bernsteini), thought to be extinct for over 60 years before its rediscovery in 2000, stood as a beacon of hope, showing what can be achieved through specific actions on the ground." Photo: https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chinese_crested_tern_colony.jpg