The influence of human pollution is reaching increasingly far into the icy waters of the Arctic Circle, as shown by my latest research using seabirds as an indicator of environmental change. The Arctic is home to only 0.05% of the world’s human population, and yet their surroundings are vulnerable to the effects of plastic litter being thrown away by ‘non-Arctic’ nations. We discovered that nearly 90% of a high European Arctic population of Northern Fulmars, an abundant species of oceanic seabird, have pieces of plastic in their stomachs. This is the closest to the North Pole that the impacts of plastic on seabirds have been documented.
Although on average we found 15 pieces of plastic per fulmar, one individual had 200 pieces of plastic litter in its stomach! I explain why fulmars are so useful for monitoring plastic litter in a previous post.
Our research, which is directly comparable to other regions of the North Atlantic, shows higher than expected levels of plastic in the high European Arctic. With climate change causing melting of the ice caps, the Arctic is opening up to commercial exploration and exploitation. It is crucial that mitigation action is taken now, and that future activity is strictly controlled in the region to prevent plastic pollution in the region getting worse.
You can read the full paper online and open access here.
Download the paper here: Trevail et al (2015)