In vivo accumulation of plastic-derived chemicals into seabird tissues

2020-02-24

Plastic debris is ubiquitous and increasing in the marine environment [1]. A wide range of marine organisms ingest plastic, and its impacts are of growing concern [2]. Seabirds are particularly susceptible to plastic pollution because of high rates of ingestion [3]. Because marine plastics contain an array of hazardous compounds, the chemical impacts of ingestion are concerning. Several studies on wild seabirds suggested accumulation of plastic-derived chemicals in seabird tissues [4-7]. However, to date, the evidence has all been indirect [4-7], and it is unclear whether plastic debris is the source of these pollutants. To obtain direct evidence for the transfer and accumulation of plastic additives in the tissues of seabirds, we conducted an in vivo plastic feeding experiment. Environmentally relevant exposure of plastics compounded with one flame retardant and four ultraviolet stabilizers to streaked shearwater (Calonectris leucomelas) chicks in semi-field conditions resulted in the accumulation of the additives in liver and adipose fat of 91 to 120,000 times the rate from the natural diet. Additional monitoring of six seabird species detected these chemical additives only in those species with high plastic ingestion rates, suggesting that plastic debris can be a major pathway of chemical pollutants into seabirds. These findings provide direct evidence of seabird exposure to plastic additives and emphasize the role of marine debris ingestion as a source of chemical pollution in marine organisms.

Authors: Tanaka K, Watanuki Y, Takada H, Ishizuka M, Yamashita R, Kazama M, Hiki N, Kashiwada F, Mizukawa K, Mizukawa H, Hyrenbach D, Hester M, Ikenaka Y, Nakayama SMM
; Full Source: Current Biology: CB. 2020 Feb 24;30(4):723-728.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.12.037. Epub 2020 Jan 30.