Birding Today: Plastics damage birds, animals and us

Note the remnants of the oyster shells, consumed by the American Oystercatcher on its breeding grounds. Even this little island does not escape the effects of plastic.

Plastic consists of synthetic or semi-synthetic polymers of high molecular mass. They are generally synthetic and derived from petrochemicals, or oil, and can affect us just as negatively as they do marine animals and birds. For our safety, it is best that we not use any form of plastic from which to drink, or the single-use plastics, including cups that we get from takeout restaurants. The oil will leach out of these containers, and once we drink them, they remain in our bodies forever. The more we ingest, the closer to illness and death we get.

There are always remnants of our throw-away society no matter where we go, and it is usually not in approved receptacles. Plastics turn into microplastics if given enough time, and we can see these pieces littering the shore if we visit beaches.

Shorebirds search these beaches for food. Some of the organisms that they recognize they will ingest, as well as the stationary variety, yet it gives every appearance of food. Much of this is the microplastics that we help get to these beaches, like plastic bags, bottle caps, and pellets that used to be manufactured in our toothpaste. These pellets were tested for chemical concentrations and discovered that they were a million times higher than on the water. Many of these contained endocrine disruptors, which do not discriminate between children and adults.

Midway Atoll in the Pacific once had more plastic than any other location, as that’s where the ebb and flow of seawater deposited these plastics and microplastics. The most well-known problem as a result, was the fact that the Laysan Albatross fed this trash to their chicks. Nearly half died before fledging due to blockage of their stomachs, which was proven by many autopsies. These photo representations will not be shown here, because the point has been made.

Another problem is fishing line, which chokes the life out of both seabirds and land birds. Rare birds like the Red Knot and the very common pelican have lost legs and wings due to fishing line tightening around those appendages. Hooks can impale both tiny and large bodies to cause a slow and painful death.

A million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals suffer the effects of plastic disfiguring and mutilating those bodies.

Instead of plastic lunch bags, we can use bento boxes. We can drink from glass or metal containers. Reusable shopping bags are available and last quite some time. Support plastic bag bans and bottle recycling bills. Buy your music on line and avoid discs, CDs, and jewel cases. Bring a to-go mug to restaurants for takeout purposes. Amazon offers metal collapsible straws that ship free. If one must use plastic, choose the recyclable #1 or #2 types. There are now beeswax food wraps that last for years with proper care.

Spread the word that plastic bad for us and our animals.

Keep your eyes on the ground and your head in the clouds. Happy birding!

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