Plastic pollution continues to be a growing problem, both locally and around the world. With production of plastic products almost doubling each decade, the world’s oceans are receiving a proportional increase in plastic waste. What’s more, Australia’s ecosystem is being disproportionately affected, despite contributing a relatively small share of the world’s plastic pollution.
The problem has become so dire, a leading CSIRO researcher says that more than half the world’s turtles and two-thirds of some bird species along Australia’s east coast are being found to have ingested plastics. These numbers are set to increase, with 95 per cent of all seabirds being projected to have swallowed plastic by mid-century.
Denise Hardesty, a senior research scientist from the CSIRO, co-authored a report in 2015 that demonstrated that the impacts on sea birdlife are expected to be concentrated in regions such as the southern Tasman Sea and the South-West Indian Ocean. These areas are quite rich in biodiversity and face multiple environmental threats, including bycatch in fisheries and invasive species.
The findings have motivated the CSIRO to develop new techniques that can detect plastics within birds, including swabs to check natural oils on the birds’ wings. The agency’s modelling has been used by the US and will soon be made for about 20 countries globally.