Plastics in regurgitated Flesh-footed Shearwater (Ardenna carneipes) boluses as a monitoring tool

Alexander L. Bond, Ian Hutton, Jennifer L. Lavers

Plastic production and pollution of the environment with plastic items is rising rapidly and outpacing current mitigation measures. Success of mitigation actions can only be determined if progress can be measured reliably through incorporation of specific, measurable targets.

Here we evaluate temporal changes in the amount and composition of plastic in boluses from Flesh-footed Shearwaters during 2002–2020 and assess their suitability for measuring progress against national and international commitments to reduce plastic pollution. Plastic in the shearwater boluses showed a generally decreasing pattern from 2002 to 2015 and increasing again to 2020.

The colour and type of plastics in boluses was comparable to items recovered from live and necropsied birds, but a much smaller sample size (~35 boluses/year) was required to detect changes in plastic number and mass over time. We therefore suggest shearwater boluses are a low-effort, high-statistical power monitoring tool for quantifying progress against environmental policies in Australia.