Friday, 26 September 2014

What A Load of Rubbish!

With sharp eyed observers present on multiple decks, scanning the vast expanses of open ocean from the R.V. Celtic Explorer for whales, dolphins, seabirds etc., it's no wonder that we also encounter other marine 'inhabitants' from time to time and unfortunately those which originate from a human source.

Since 2012, the seabird team conducting surveys during the Cetaceans on the Frontier research trips, Blue Whiting Acoustic Survey (Mar-Apr) and Celtic Sea Herring Acoustic Survey (Oct) has recorded the presence of any marine litter observed, taking notes on size, material, colour and branding plus photographing examples as much as possible. 

Plastic bottles, rubber gloves, wooden pallets and plastic bags seem to be the most frequently observed 'macro litter' so far and some interesting results are starting to crop up with regards which sectors of the Irish offshore territory exhibit higher densities of surface litter.

Why is it important to survey for marine litter? The direct effects of marine litter, particularly plastics, is well documented as having lethal consequences for species which mistake them for food. In seabirds such as fulmar, up to 95% of those examined in the North Sea alone contained an average of 35 pieces of ingested plastic in their stomach. Leatherback turtles are also prone to ingesting plastic bags which they mistake for jellyfish (their prey), ending up in their gastrointestinal tract, resulting in death. Even the largest of marine predators are not immune to the dangers of litter. In 2013, a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Southern Spain which contained 17kg of plastic sheeting in its stomach associated with greenhouses for vegetable growing.

Jellyfish?... nope, a plastic bag (c) Jason McGuirk

Data on the presence of surface litter in the Irish offshore territory will continue to be collected during future seabird surveys on board the R.V. Celtic Explorer and analysed to assess temporal and spatial variation in density and distribution.

I'm not lovin' it (c) Niall Keogh

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