Volunteers clean up as plastic plague hits seabirds

RUBBISH COLLECTION: Australian Seabird Rescue volunteers Catherine Johnson and Erin Sutherland at a Sharpes Beach clean-up on September 3.
RUBBISH COLLECTION: Australian Seabird Rescue volunteers Catherine Johnson and Erin Sutherland at a Sharpes Beach clean-up on September 3. Leah White

ALMOST every seabird in the world will be affected by potentially deadly plastic ingestion by the year 2050, according to new research from the CSIRO and Imperial College London.

The researchers predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99% of the world's seabird species by 2050, based on analysis of published studies since the early 1960s.

It's an alarming statistic that Australia Seabird Rescue general manager Kathrina Southwell is well aware of.

"This is something that we have known for over 10 to 15 years," she said.

"We're not surprised by it at all but it's quite depressing to hear that it's true and that it is getting worse.

"If we don't start doing more beach clean-ups and educating the younger generation, then this is going to be a continuous problem for many years to come."

Despite the bleak statistics, Ms Southwell said there was hope, particularly with schoolchildren and volunteers pitching their time to help remove plastic from beaches like they did on Sharpes Beach in Lennox Head last week.

Erin Sutherland said she spent two years eagerly waiting to turn 18 so she could volunteer with Seabird Rescue.

"Living on this coastline for so many years, I've seen what happens so I was like, 'I need to help'," she said.

It was Catherine Johnson's first day volunteering with Seabird Rescue, after retiring from a nursing career of 38 years.

"I think the work Seabird Rescue are doing is critical for me and my children and my grandchildren, that they're able to have these birds around in years to come," she said.

The CSIRO study found plastic was in the stomachs of less than 5% of seabirds in 1960 - a figure that rose to 80% by 2010.

The Federal Government has asked Seabird Rescue to put in a submission to the inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution.

Topics:  beaches environment lismore pollution seabirds volunteers

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