Birds Are Eating Hundreds of Plastic Bits Daily, New Studies Find
The gruesome images of whales and deer dying after mistaking plastic for food has helped put into perspective just how severe the plastic waste crisis is. Now, a new study finds that it is not just land and sea animals eating our plastic trash. It turns out that birds are eating hundreds of bits of plastic every day through the food they eat.
The scientists from Cardiff University, the University of Exeter and the Greenpeace Research Laboratories found that birds along Britain's rivers are eating hundreds of fragments of microplastics daily because the worms and insects they feast on have also swallowed the plastics, making this the first study to show how plastic pollution makes its way up the food chain, as the BBC reported. The study was published in the journal Global Change Biology.
Previous research has noted that half of the insects in the rivers of south Wales contain microplastic fragments.
"The fact that so many river insects are contaminated makes it inevitable that fish, birds and other predators will pick up these polluted prey — but this is the first time that this type of transfer through food webs has been shown clearly in free-living river animals," said Joseph D'Souza, one of the study's researchers, to the BBC.
The Cardiff University researchers analyzed at plastic pollutants found in a bird known as a dipper, which wades or dives into rivers in search of underwater insects. They looked at droppings and regurgitated pellets from the birds and found microplastic fragments in roughly half of 166 samples taken from adults and nestlings at 14 of 15 sites studied.
"These iconic birds, the dippers, are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day," said Steve Ormerod, a professor at Cardiff University's Water Research Institute to the BBC. "They're also feeding this material to their chicks."
"In almost 40 years of researching rivers and dippers, I never imagined that one day our work would reveal these spectacular birds to be at risk from the ingestion of plastics — a measure of how this pollution problem has crept upon us," said Ormerod, as iNews in the UK reported.
Similarly, another study published in the journal Environmental Pollution recently found that birds of prey in Florida swallow tiny bits of plastic debris at a rate of hundreds a day, particularly microplastic fragments made of polyester, polypropylene and nylon, as Sustainability Times reported.
In that study, the researchers examined dozens of birds of prey, including hawks, ospreys and owls retrieved from the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Florida. From the 63 birds examined, representing eight different species, all were found to have microplastics in their GI tract, according to the study.
"Birds of prey are top predators in the ecosystem and by changing the population or health status of the top predator, it completely alters all of the animals, organisms and habitats below them on the food web," said Julia Carlin, the study's lead author, in a University of Central Florida press release.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Gloria Oladipo
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Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?<p>Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.</p><p>The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.</p><p>Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."</p><p>"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.</p><p>Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.</p>
Climate Change to Blame?<p>Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.</p><p>Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p>
Elephant Paradise?<p>Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.</p><p>Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.</p>
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