Plastic Particles in Fulmars


Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis, left ©Daniele1357) are seabirds that belong to the large group of the tubenoses, of which the albatrosses are the best known representatives. These birds forage exclusively at sea and never on land, and rarely forage close to shore. The fulmar is a poor diver, and thus feeds on what is available at or within a few metres of the water surface. Like most tubenosed seabirds, fulmars regularly ingest a variety of marine debris. Unlike most gulls, fulmars do not normally regurgitate indigestible components of their diet, but gradually grind these into sizes small enough to pass into the intestines and be excreted. Fulmar stomach contents therefore integrate litter abundance encountered during feeding over periods of days to weeks.

OSPAR has therefore developed an indicator based on the stomach contents of fulmars to assess changes in the quantities of floating litter, in the North Sea, and give an indication of the impact on biota. OSPAR has a long-term goal of less than 10% of fulmars exceeding a level of 0.1 g of plastic in their stomachs.

The most recent assessment of Plastic Particles in Fulmar Stomachs was undertaken in 2017 as part of the Intermediate Assessment. Since the early 2000s, levels of plastic ingestion by fulmars in the North Sea appear to have stabilised at around 60% of individuals exceeding the 0.1 g level of plastic ingestion. When considering the growth in marine activity and the increasing proportion of plastics in wastes, the observed stability in the indicator could be viewed positively. Even though the OSPAR long-term goal is still far from being achieved, it remains valid as a global assessment level.

Running five-year averages for the percentage of fulmars having more than 0.1 g of plastic in their stomach since 2000 and/or the start of sub-regional participation in the monitoring programme. Incidental data published for the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Svalbard are included to illustrate lower levels further north in the OSPAR Maritime Area, but nevertheless still well above the OSPAR long-term goal