Comparing methods for monitoring nest debris using silver gulls as a case study

Gabrielle E Henderson, Megan L Grant, Jennifer L. Lavers

Global plastics production is increasing exponentially and contributing to significant pollution of the marine environment. Of particular concern is ingestion and entanglement risks for marine wildlife, including when items such as rope are incorporated into nest structures. These events are commonly documented using photographic and visual surveys, and each presents a number of challenges and benefits for species conservation and monitoring. Here we compare an invasive (i.e., removing debris from nests) and non-invasive (i.e., photographs) sampling method for quantifying nest debris using the silver gull (Chroicocephalus novahollandiae) as a case study. Overall, 17 debris items were detected in 9% of gull nests. While the use of photographs to monitor nest debris is increasingly popular, the invasive method detected one additional debris item not identified using photography. We therefore recommend caution for nest debris and other monitoring programs where identifying small or cryptic items may require a high level of skill.