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Researchers to study effects plastics on Maine island birds — Environment — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Researchers to study effects plastics on Maine island birds — Environment — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

By Deborah McDermott, The York Weekly •
August 6, 2018 1:03 am

APPLEDORE ISLAND, Maine — For years, undergraduate scholar interns and their school mentors on the Shoals Marine Laboratory have been monitoring and researching tern and seagull populations on the Isles of Shoals. These days, although, they’ve famous a disturbing development — an growing introduction of plastic within the birds’ ecology: exhausting plastic, polystyrene, fishing line, fibers and, probably the most ubiquitous of all, small items of single-use plastic luggage.

“Plastic is a big issue for seabirds in general, and it’s come to our attention as an important factor,” stated Government Director Jennifer Seavey. “We’ve had a lot of anecdotal information. We’ve seen plastic in the colony around their nests and in their nests. And the observational data makes you wonder if it’s a problem or not.”

[World’s oceans clogged by millions of tons of plastic trash]

Consequently, the Shoals Marine Laboratory this summer time is embarking on a pilot challenge to start to quantify the quantity and sort of plastic discovered within the environments of herring and black-backed gulls on Appledore Island, and customary and roseate terns on Seavey and White Islands. It is going to be a multi-year study that may construct on the knowledge garnered by scholar scientists every summer time, with the aim of having the ability to add to what’s now a small however more and more acknowledged dataset on the effects of plastics in seabirds.

“This research field is in its – well if not its infancy stage, its elementary school stage,” stated Seavey. “People have not been looking at plastics for all that long. The methods are just now being developed. I am probably among a group of people who are collectively really pushing this research.”

And it’s essential info to collect, she stated. New Hampshire has declared the widespread tern a threatened species, and roseate terns are federally endangered. Even populations of the ever-present seagulls are diminishing within the Gulf of Maine. It’s estimated that in virtually 700 marine species, plastic is an element. By 2050, 99 % of seabird species and 95 % of all hen species may have ingested plastic, Seavey stated.

What are the implications of this plastic ingestion? That’s one query in a digital ocean of questions which might be being raised by means of the Seabird and Plastic Air pollution Internship.

“There’s mostly anecdotal information now. And there are not many researchers in the Gulf of Maine studying this. So in that sense, we will be contributing to that story significantly here. Because we know they’re ingesting it,” stated Seavey.

[More Maine towns making transition life without plastic bags]

Aliya Caldwell, who can be getting into her junior yr at Rutgers College in ecology evolution and pure assets, was chosen from amongst 20 or so candidates because the analysis intern for this inaugural season of the study.

The internship is amongst eight for undergraduate college students provided on the Shoals Marine Laboratory this summer time. Others are learning parasite ecology in inexperienced crabs, intertidal ecology, gull inhabitants biology, and aquatic ecology. All are paid a weekly stipend and are supplied with room and board.

Individually, engineering college students come each summer time to study concerning the engineering challenges of supplying energy and water to an island. This yr, a sustainability communications internship was additionally provided.

As that is the primary yr of the plastic study, the methodology tailor-made to the Isles of Shoals had to be established. In accordance to Caldwell, it shortly turned obvious that within the “field setting” of the island, as opposed to a sterile “lab setting,” it might be inconceivable to study microplastics. “These are tiny pieces infinitely smaller than 1 millimeter. So we decided to limit ourselves to 1 millimeter or larger. There is plastic that we are losing, but it’s too complicated to look at stuff smaller than that.”

[City cracks down on contaminated recycling]

So, for example, gull and tern guano can be a logical substance through which to measure plastic ingestion, however the measurement can be on the microplastic degree. Polystyrene is an instance of a plastic that shortly breaks down into microplastics, she stated.

Seavey stated in future years, if funding could be discovered, she would really like to associate with a lab to study guano “because that’s everywhere. You’re always looking for the least expensive way to figure something out so you can get the maximum amount of information.”

This yr, Caldwell has been amassing specimens from a number of sources: from fish and birds discovered lifeless which might be “opportunistically” collected and dissected (the laboratory doesn’t terminate the lifetime of a hen for study), and from regurgitated pellets – indigestible materials like crab elements, bones, pebbles and, in a lot of the samples Caldwell has collected, plastic. When terns are being banded they’ll typically throw up as a stress response, “and we pick up that too.”

“It could be good that we’re finding it in the pellets. That may mean they are not accumulating it in their bodies,” stated Caldwell.

The precise plastic itself attracts not solely organic materials however toxins within the ocean, stated Seavey. Organic materials like algae and kelp principally adheres to the plastic, over time forming a coating. Seabirds that don’t ever come ashore, just like the albatross, are dying from plastic ingestion as a result of they see one thing like a kelp mass that has a core of plastic, she stated.

[Man begs forgiveness for ‘tornado of seagull excrement, feathers and pepperoni chunks’]

As well as, plastic additionally attracts toxins like pesticides within the ocean, and the plastic itself has estrogen mimickers, which might have long-term impacts on the birds.

Caldwell stated she is discovering probably the most proof of plastic within the pellets she collects. She breaks the pellets up and places the fabric in a 1mm mesh strainer, then washes out all of the micro-elements and research what stays beneath a microscope.

Thus far she’s discovered fragments of arduous plastic reminiscent of from a software or equipment, fishing line, fibers from gadgets corresponding to clothes, polystyrene and “nurdles” -tiny balls of plastic that function the uncooked materials to manufacture gadgets. Seavey stated there have been a number of “famous” nurdle disasters at sea, the place a delivery container full of them falls off a ship and spill their contents.

However by far probably the most prevalent plastic is from single-use luggage, stated Caldwell.

“A lot of times, you can see by eye a piece of plastic bag. For the smaller ones, there are rules about color and texture and edges that give them away. If I still can’t tell, I’ll dye the contents with a pink dye that stains the biological material. And if I’m still not sure, I touch it with a hot poker and smell it.”

Caldwell has made a number of observations from her work up to now. For one, she has not discovered proof of plastic in terns – “which may mean they’re not ingesting plastic but may also mean they are not ingesting it in the size range we’re looking at. For them, the plastics are coming from fish, who are probably ingesting plastic at the (very small) plankton level.”

For an additional, herring gulls, nicely studied for his or her forays to landfills, are ingesting extra plastic that black-backed gulls. There’s not as a lot analysis on black-backed gulls, stated Caldwell, so this line of inquiry can be worthwhile to discover in future years.

[Rockland approves plastic bag ban]

Seavey and Liz Craig, the tern conservation program supervisor for the Shoals Marine Lab and the second mentor on the undertaking, will sift by way of the info collected by Caldwell over the winter, “just to make sure there aren’t any messages we missed,” stated Seavey. And Seavey may also doubtless search for a sterile lab associate, and the funding to contract with the lab, as nicely.

Because the work continues, who is aware of what questions will crop up, she stated.

“Say, Portsmouth adopts a plastic bag ban. York already has one. And before long you start seeing a decline. That would be fabulous. How long should we be monitoring? Five years, ten years? Once researchers have a uniform methodology, things could move quickly,” stated Seavey.

“Once we have the methodology, we can ask the next question. Good science will feed the next question,” she stated. “This is a great example of how science is built, how knowledge is built.”

And as soon as there’s knowledge to share, she stated, the general public may be positive she is going to share it with individuals on the mainland as well as to different scientists, to inform their selections on using plastics.

“We’ll never get rid of plastics. It’s done so many wonderful, good things for humanity. But we have to decide what is the good stuff we want to keep – like artificial body parts and that sort of thing — and what’s the stuff that’s really unnecessary and a waste. We’ll have to figure that out as a society, but certainly the impacts to wildlife will help inform decisions about the more dangerous forms of plastic.”

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