Microplastics around an Arctic seabird colony: Particle community composition varies across environmental matrices

2021-06-15

Plastic pollution is a contaminant of global concern, as it is present even in remote ecosystems – like the Arctic. Arctic seabirds are vulnerable to ingesting plastic pollution, and these ingested particles are shed in the form of microplastics via guano. This suggests that Arctic seabird guano may act as a vector for the movement of microplastics into and around northern ecosystems. While contaminant-laden guano deposition patterns create a clear concentration gradient of chemicals around seabird colonies, this has not yet been investigated with plastic pollution. Here we tested whether a contaminant gradient of plastic pollution exists around a seabird colony that is primarily comprised of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) in the Canadian Arctic. Atmospheric deposition, surface water, and surface sediment samples were collected below the cliff-side of the colony and at increasing intervals of 1 km from the colony. Fulmars were also collected when foraging away from their colony. Microplastics and other anthropogenic microparticles were identified in all three environmental matrices as well as fulmar guano. Fibers were the most common shape in fulmar guano, atmospheric deposition and surface sediment, and fragments were the most common shape in surface water. We did not find a gradient of microplastic concentrations in environmental matrices related to distance from the colony. Combined, these results suggest that fulmars are not the primary source of microplastic around this colony. Further research is warranted to understand sources of microplastics to the areas around the colonies, including to what extent seabirds transport and concentrate microplastics in Arctic ecosystems, and whether concentrations proximate to large colonies may be species dependent.

Authors: Bonnie M Hamilton, Madelaine P T Bourdages, Catherine Geoffroy, Jesse C Vermaire, Mark L Mallory, Chelsea M Rochman, Jennifer F Provencher
; Full Source: The Science of the total environment 2021 Jun 15;773:145536. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.145536.