Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!
The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) and Environment for the Americas (EFTA) have joined forces to strengthen global recognition and appreciation of migratory birds. This year the theme of World Migratory Bird Day is “Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!” and will put the spotlight on the impact of plastic pollution on migratory birds and their habitats.
Plastic and the harm it does to the environment
With an annual production of more than 300 million tons, plastic is one of the most widely used materials in the world. What often escapes one’s attention is that the plastic is used for its main purpose for only a moment compared with its lifecycle of 20 to 500 years. Lightweight and designed to last, the discarded pieces are easily transported to ecosystems through the forces of nature causing serious threats to migratory species around the world. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans each year. To make matters worse, plastic does not simply dissolve. Broken down into small particles by water, sunlight and wind, it often leads to lethal cases of ingestion and entanglement.
How does plastic affect birds?
Sadly, having wings does not help birds escape the threat of plastic. Dead chicks with stomachs full of plastic, entangled and smothered by plastic rings and nets are all too real consequences of the toll that plastic takes on birds and other wildlife.
Foraging behaviour makes seabirds prone to ingesting plastics. Floating on the surface of the water, covered in algae, single-use plastics such as bags, drinking straws and bottles can easily be mistaken for prey, both by shape and by smell. Unwittingly, birds feed plastic to their chicks that are even more vulnerable due to their underdeveloped organs.
In cases of ingestion, the damage caused by plastic depends on its shape. Sharp plastic particles cause immediate death by piercing internal organs. But mostly, plastic consumption leads to a chronic feeling of hunger and starvation as it gives the sensation of having a full stomach without any nutritional value. The toxicity of chemicals coating plastics is an additional threat.
Layers of plastic covering wetlands lead to many cases of entanglement and trapping. Abandoned fishing gear is one of the most common causes leading to a phenomenon called ‘ghost fishing’. Caught birds are either injured and pick up infections or end up drowning. Often, trapped birds are limited in their movements and easily become prey to other animals.
What can be done to prevent the problem?
The number of seabirds dying from the effects of plastic every year is currently 1 million and growing. Research highlights the urgency of the matter: not only do 90 per cent of seabirds are estimated to have plastic in their guts, but at this rate the proportion of seabirds ingesting plastic will reach 99 per cent by 2050.
Studies show that local projects on the management of plastic waste produce results in a short period of time. Thus, common sense and awareness can help to curb the giant tide of plastic. The international community needs to take urgent action to mitigate unnecessary injuries and mortality of migratory birds due to plastic pollution. World Migratory Bird Day 2019 is a unique chance to join efforts to address the serious problem of plastic pollution and to highlight its negative effects on migratory birds. Let’s unite our voices to address this rapidly growing environmental concern!
What to do to fight plastic pollution?
Reduce, reuse and recycle - Limit your use of plastic materials and replace them with eco-friendly alternatives, use and dispose of plastics sustainably
Clean up - Join clean-up activities in your area, whether at beaches or along rivers