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September 22, 2018

Marine plastic: Hundreds of fragments in dead seabirds

The seabirds dive underwater for food, but often eat pieces of plastic. /AGENCIES
The seabirds dive underwater for food, but often eat pieces of plastic. /AGENCIES

New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team.

Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed.

Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food.

The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment.

The marine biologists the team filmed are working on the island to save the birds. They captured hundreds of chicks - as they left their nests - to physically flush plastic from their stomachs and "give them a chance to survive".

The birds nest in burrows on Lord Howe Island, which is more than 600 kilometres off the east coast of Australia. While chicks wait in the burrow, the parents head out to sea and dive for small fish and squid to feed their offspring.

"These birds are generalist predators," explained marine biologist Jennifer Lavers who works with the shearwater colony. "They'll eat just about anything they're given. That's what's allowed them to thrive - a lack of pickiness.

"But when you put plastic in the ocean, it means they have no ability to detect plastic form non-plastic, so they eat it."

Parent birds unwittingly feeding plastic to their chicks means that the birds emerge from their burrows with stomachs filled with plastic, and with insufficient nutrition to enable them set out to sea and forage for themselves.

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