Beyond the surface: Seabirds and plastics as indicators in a large, remote marine protected area

Jennifer L. Lavers, Alexander L. Bond

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an important conservation tool for species and habitats; however, they are not a panacea solution. For example, MPAs provide little protection from plastic pollution which travels vast distances on ocean currents. Here we document exposure of juvenile Christmas Shearwaters (Puffinus nativitatis) to plastics on uninhabited Ducie Atoll in the remote South Pacific. Despite being surrounded by the very large Pitcairn Islands MPA, most birds (68.7 %; n = 16) contained 3.8 ± 4.1 pieces of ingested plastic. Unexpectedly, the number, mass and frequency of occurrence of plastic in two age classes (young downy chicks and fledglings) was similar. While the reason for this is unknown, it may suggest birds do not acquire new plastic items, or are able to rid themselves of plastics, beyond a certain age. We discuss the potential health consequences of plastic ingestion in Christmas Shearwaters and call for further research of this poorly studied species.