New disease in seabirds is caused by plastic


The first disease in wild animals caused by ingestion of plastics has been identified by researchers from the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London.

Plasticosis has left seabirds with scarred tissue in their digestive system after consuming plastic waste. The condition has been confirmed in chicks and older birds. It is thought that young seabirds risk developing the disease after ingesting plastic items accidentally fed to them by their parents.

Plasticosis was discovered during research conducted on Flesh-footed Shearwaters on Lorde Howe Island in the Tasman Sea (Alexander Viduetsky).

Dr Alex Bond and Dr Jennifer Lavers from the Natural History Museum found that the more plastic a bird had consumed, the greater the extent of the scarring the individual suffered in the first part of the stomach, called the proventriculus.

The research was conducted on Flesh-footed Shearwaters on Lord Howe Island in Australia.

Extreme scarring can compromise a bird's tubular glands in the proventriculus, putting it at risk of parasites and infection, as wel as affecting its ability to digest food properly.

Persistent inflammation of the stomach was found to impact growth of chicks and the survival of individual birds.

Dr Bond, principle birds curator at NHM, said: "While these birds can look healthy on the outside, they’re not doing well on the inside. This study is the first time that stomach tissue has been investigated in this way and shows that plastic consumption can cause serious damage to these birds’ digestive system."

The researchers said it is likely the disease impacts other seabirds, and perhaps other species groups, with plastic pollution being a persistent issue across the world, especially in the oceans.