Every year, roughly 9 million tons of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans. It would be bad enough if that plastic was just polluting the water, but unfortunately, a lot of it ends up getting eaten by unsuspecting wildlife who mistake it for food.
This problem has become an epidemic for birds. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this week estimates that up to 90 percent of the world’s seabirds have pieces of plastic in their digestive systems.
The research was conducted by a team of Australian scientists that has been studying the link between sea birds and marine debris for decades. The team used computer models to simulate the locations of the plastic and the seabirds, while also taking into account the eating habits of the birds.
Seabirds often mistake small bits of plastic for fish eggs, explains Denise Hardesty, senior research scientist at the Australian federal science agency and co-author of the new study.
“They think they’re getting a proper meal but they’re really getting a plastic meal… I have seen everything from cigarette lighters … to bottle caps to model cars,”
Hardesty told The New York Times in a recent interview.
While some people are already inventing ways to clean up the plastic in the world’s oceans, it’s likely that the problem of plastic pollution is only going to get worse in the coming years. According to Hardesty,
“In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s.”
More plastic means more bad news for ocean wildlife. Based on their computer models, Hardesty and her colleagues estimate that by the year 2050 a whopping 99% of seabirds will have plastic in their gut.
Read more from The New York Times.