Researchers have found traces of plastic additives in birds’ eggs in a remote corner of the Arctic, according to The Independent, adding more evidence that plastic pollution is affecting wildlife in even the most distant and isolated areas.
The eggs, laid by northern fulmars, were found on an island in Canada’s Lancaster Sound, over 100 miles from any human settlement. One of the eggs tested positive for traces of phthalates, chemicals that are added to plastics for flexibility, but which have been banned from use in toys due to their hormone-disrupting properties.
Seabirds often eat plastic products found in the ocean, but birds living in areas as remote as this have been thought to be less affected. These chemicals have never before been found in Arctic birds.
“These are some of the birds who have the lowest levels of accumulated plastic,” said Dr. Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service, who led the research. “Now the thing is to look at other populations and to see if they have the same chemicals, or other chemicals.”
In separate research, Provencher tested eggs from both fulmars and black-legged kittiwakes and found traces of other plastic additives – SDPAs, which are used to stop plastics from degrading, and BZT-UVs, used to help plastics retain their color when exposed to sunlight.
“We are finding multiple plastic-derived contaminants that are maternally transferred to the egg,” said Provencher. “It’s really tragic…that bird, from the very beginning of its development, will have those contaminants inside it.”
Provencher said the next step is to determine what kind of harm these chemicals could be causing the birds:
“We know that these chemicals are often endocrine disruptors, and we know that they can interrupt hormonal development and cause deformations. But whether they actually cause any harm in the eggs is something we don’t know.”
Often, plastic pieces consumed by birds are too large to pass, and sit inside the stomach, leaching chemicals which can make their way into developing eggs. Recent research has also suggested that plastic ingestion is changing the behavior of animals, making them more susceptible to predators.
The birds can live as long as 40 years, which means they’ve had few generations and little opportunity to adapt since plastic pollution has become so widespread.
According to Provencher:
“The recognition that at least some of these contaminants are going into eggs really opens the door for all these other questions we should be asking in areas of much higher plastic concentrations.”