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WHY IT MATTERS
Seabirds tell us about the health of the ocean
A seabird is any bird whose survival depends largely on the marine environment. Because they rely on the ocean’s continuing health and biodiversity to survive, seabirds are an indicator species that tells us a lot about the health of the ocean. Much like the canary in the coal mine warns of danger to come, declining seabird populations are one of the first indicators that the ocean is unwell.
The world’s seabird population has seen dramatic declines in the last 60 years, a good indicator of the detrimental impact humanity is having on the ocean ecosystem. Nearly half of all seabird species are in known or suspected declines and some species are already on the brink of extinction; for example, the albatross family is especially imperiled, with 15 of 22 species threatened with extinction. These are just a handful of the threats seabirds face:
Plastic ingestion by seabirds was first documented in the 1960s and has been increasing ever since. Today, at least 40% of seabird species are known to ingest plastic and experts predict that by 2050, this will rise to 99%. So, in the next 30 years, nearly every seabird on earth will have eaten plastic.
It’s not just grown seabirds that are consuming plastic; many chicks are fed plastic by parents who have mistaken it for food. Sharp pieces can cause fatal internal injuries while soft plastics like balloons can block their digestive tract.
Plastic can also fill the birds’ bellies to the point where they either don’t feel hungry or there’s just not enough room for food, which can lead to starvation.
Seabirds are easily tangled in plastic bags, abandoned fishing lines, and other marine debris. Entanglement events can cause severe injuries and can even be fatal. Entangled seabirds can also bring these hazards back to their roosting or nesting sites, which can become a danger to other seabirds. Some seabirds will even try to use marine debris as nesting material, which can also lead to entanglement-related injuries and deaths for both parents and their chicks.
Accidental capture in commercial fishing gear, or bycatch, kills hundreds of thousands of seabirds every year. An estimated 300,000 seabirds are killed by longline fishing fleets while more than 400,000 die in gillnets every year.
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