90 Percent of Seabirds Have Plastic in Their Stomachs

Plastic pollution is becoming a big problem for birds and may now be found in 90 percent of their stomachs. Ognen Teofilovski/REUTERS

By 2050, nearly all seabirds will have plastic in their stomachs. Already, 9 out of 10 of the birds have some of the substance in their digestive tracts. Such are the sobering conclusions of a study published August 31 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authored by scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

The researchers came up with these numbers by surveying the literature from 1962 to 2012 on plastic ingestion in birds and used a variety of models to estimate what those figures would be today and in the future.

Plastic production doubles about every decade, as does the overall amount of debris reaching the ocean. Marine plastic pollution in the ocean is a growing problem—8 tons of the stuff now makes it into the sea from the land each year.

This trash can kill seabirds by choking them but also may cause more subtle effects that could reduce their fertility, some research suggests. Regardless, the study results are not a good sign for the marine ecosystem. "Seabirds are a pretty good indicator of the state of the environment," study author Chris Wilcox tells Quartz. "They cover large distances, are relatively sensitive to changes in the environment and are at the top of the marine food chain. Any sort of pollutants or disturbances are magnified up through the chain."