Little Skellig gannets using plastic to build nests, says Birdwatch Ireland

From gannets using it instead of seaweed to build nests on the Skelligs right down to it spoiling the most remote Antarctic habitats, plastic has become the environmental scourge of the age.

Birdwatch Ireland is now saying that the estimated 70,000 gannets on Little Skellig are increasingly using plastic instead of seaweed to construct their nests.

As seaweed is biodegradable, the plastic remains behind on the island instead of rotting. Fears have been expressed that the birds could mistake some of the material for food and start ingesting the plastics.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service has said it is now apparent when approaching Little Skellig that gannets use plastic waste material when constructing their nest sites.

The materials found include parts of nylon fishing nests and polystyrene rope which the birds find floating on the surface of the water.

The concerns come as tiny pieces of plastic and other debris have been found in all mussels sampled from around the UK coast and supermarkets. Scientists from the University of Hull and Brunel University London undertook a study of wild mussels from eight coastal locations around the UK and those purchased from eight unnamed supermarkets.

Remarkably, 100% were found to contain microplastics or other debris such as cotton and rayon.

There is “significant and widespread” contamination by microplastics and other debris from human activity in coastal seawater samples, coastal mussels and supermarket-bought mussels in the UK, the study said.

Mussels feed by filtering seawater through their bodies and are ingesting small particles of plastic and other materials as well as their food.

There was more debris in the wild mussels, which were sampled from Edinburgh, Filey, two sites in Hastings, Brighton, Plymouth, Cardiff and Wallasey, than in the farmed mussels bought in shops.

However, mussels from the supermarkets, which came from various places around the world, had more particles in them if they had been cooked or frozen than if they were freshly caught. Analysis carried out by the Greenpeace Research Laboratories show that Antarctica’s most remote and pristine habitats are contaminated with microplastic waste and persistent hazardous chemicals.

Earlier this year, a Greenpeace expedition took a range of samples from the sea and the snow to see how pollution was affecting Antarctica.

Samples of snow collected were analysed by an independent laboratory for the presence of perfluorinated chemicals, widely used as water-proofing and grease-proofing chemicals in outdoor clothing and food packaging. Some can be carried over vast distances on air currents and deposited in rain or snowfall, far from their sources.

“The chemicals we detected in snow samples also show how pervasive humanity’s impact can be. These chemicals are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products, and have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife. The snow samples gathered included freshly-fallen snow, suggesting the hazardous chemicals were deposited from the atmosphere,” said Louisa Casson of Greenpeace.


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