Daily Mail

‘Plasticosi­s’, new disease that’s killing our seabirds

- By Colin Fernandez Environmen­t Editor

SCIENTISTS have identified a disease – plasticosi­s – which kills seabirds that eat plastic.

Birds that have died after eating large amounts of plastic rubbish had scarring in the first part of the stomach and ‘deformed’ intestines, a study found.

The authors said plasticosi­s is caused by small pieces of plastic inflaming the digestive tract.

Young birds also had the disease. It is thought chicks are being accidental­ly, but directly, fed the plastic pollution by parents bringing back food for them.

Dr Alex Bond and Dr Jennifer Lavers, from the Natural History Museum in London, studied 30 flesh-footed shearwater­s from Australia’s Lord Howe Island to look at the relationsh­ip between levels of ingested plastic, and the proventric­ulus organ – the

‘More vulnerable to infection’

first part of a bird’s stomach. They found that scarring of the first part of the stomach was widespread. Birds that had ingested more plastic had higher levels of scarring, leading the team to characteri­se the new disease.

Over time, the persistent inflammati­on causes tissues to become scarred and deformed, with the knock- on effects including digestion, growth and survival problems.

The disease can lead to the gradual breakdown of tubular glands in the stomach. Losing these glands can cause the birds to become more vulnerable to infection and parasites and affect their ability to digest food and absorb some vitamins.

The authors said the disease is a fibrosis – causing fibrous scarring in the stomach – in a similar way to asbestosis, which is caused by asbestos, and silicosis, caused by silica dust. Both those diseases affect the lungs.

The Daily Mail has long highlighte­d the threats of plastic pollution with its Turn the Tide on Plastic campaign. Co-author Dr Bond, whose research is published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, said: ‘While these birds can look healthy on the outside, they’re not doing well on the inside.’

While plasticosi­s is only known in one bird species currently, the scale of plastic pollution means that it may be much more widespread – with plastic being known to affect some 1,200 marine species.

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