British gulls are contributing to plastic pollution in Europe’s key wetland areas, a new study has revealed.
Scientists estimate that one lake in Spain where flamingos live has 400kg of plastic a year dumped there every winter by our gulls.
This is happening because gulls, like birds of prey and owls, regurgitate things they are unable to digest when they settle somewhere to roost.
Usually, this will be things like fish bones and feathers, but birds who end up feeding on landfill sites will regurgitate plastic, glass, textiles and more – meaning these harmful substances are being deposited at natural wetland sites.
Researchers in Spain have discovered that gulls visiting from Britain are inadvertently transporting plastic waste to these important marine environments.
“We know that eating these pollutants can cause serious direct harm to birds’ health, but this research shows that the problems could have far greater ecological impact than previously expected,” senior author Professor Andy Green said.
Researchers from the Doñana Biological Station of the Spanish Science Council (CSIC), in collaboration with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), carried out the study by monitoring a group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls – a common wintering bird in Andalusia, south-west Spain.
They fitted the birds with GPS tags while they were at breeding sites in the UK – including colonies in Cumbria and Pembrokeshire – and then tracked them as they moved to roosting sites in Spain.
First, the gulls fed at UK landfill sites, and then, they travelled to the internationally important Fuente de Pieda lake nature reserve in Malaga, where they regurgitated pellets.
Analysis of the pellets revealed that 86 percent contained plastic.
The research team calculated that this means around 400kg of plastic is deposited in the Malaga lake, famous for its colony of Flamingos, every single winter.
Once in the lake, the plastics have nowhere to go – meaning they eventually break down into microplastics, causing possible long-term threats to other wildlife and the environment.
Professor Green explained: “When we throw plastics away, some of them are likely to end up being carried by birds into wetlands.
“It’s another reason we need to reduce the amount of plastic waste we generate.”
Dr. Chris Thaxter, senior research ecologist with the BTO, added: “This study suggests that the translocation of harmful plastics could be more widespread and problematic than we’d assumed.
“Gulls are highly mobile and act as highly efficient biovectors, transporting these pollutants considerable distances, posing yet more threats to important wetland habitats across the globe.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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