Bad news, party planners: Your balloons are killing birds. A new study spotted by Live Science reveals that these colorful decorations often end up in our oceans, where seabirds mistake them for squid and consume them.
The team of Australian researchers studied more than 1700 seabirds belonging to 51 different species. One in three of the birds had plastic in their systems. Researchers also found that the birds had a 20 percent chance of dying after ingesting a single piece of debris. Though hard plastics were consumed in greater quantities by seabirds, balloons proved to be far deadlier. Eating them is “32 times more likely to result in death than ingesting hard plastic,” researchers write in their paper, published in the journal Scientific Reports.
“Marine debris ingestion is now a globally recognized threat,” Lauren Roman, who led the study, said in a statement. “Among the birds we studied, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract, followed by infections or other complications caused by gastrointestinal obstructions.”
The study also highlighted another startling statistic: 99 percent of all seabird species are predicted to ingest marine debris by 2050. That is of great concern in Australasia, which is home to the world's highest biodiversity of seabirds. Albatross and petrel species are particularly under threat, but the exact role that debris plays in that is not fully known.
Similarly, a survey from last December found microplastics in the guts of all seven sea turtle species that were studied, including the endangered green turtle and critically endangered hawksbill and Kemp's ridley turtles. However, these particles are smaller than balloon bits, and the consequences of ingesting microplastics are still being studied.
According to researchers, the most obvious and immediate solution is to reduce the amount of waste entering oceans.
[h/t Live Science]