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Seabirds, gyres and global trends in plastic pollution

Fulmars are effective biological indicators of the abundance of floating plastic marine debris. Long-term data reveal a high concentration of plastic in the southern North Sea, which gradually decrease in the north at increasing distance from population centers, with lowest levels in high-arctic waters. Since 1980s, the amount of pre-production plastic pellets found in the North Sea fulmars has decreased by 75% while the amount of user plastics varied without a strong overall change. Similar trends were found in net-collected floating plastic debris in the North Atlantic subtropical gyre, with a 75% decrease in plastic pellets and no obvious trend in user plastic. The decreases in pellets suggest that changes in litter input are rapidly visible in the environment both close to presumed sources and far from land. Floating plastic debris is rapidly “lost” from the ocean surface to other as-yet undetermined sinks in the marine environment.

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(Photo credit: Duncan Watson)


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