UN raises red flag as birds choke, die over plastics

United Nations wildlife treaties and conservationists have singled out plastic pollution as a major threat to migratory birds as the world marks Migratory Birds’ Day today.

The organisations noted that plastics are also a threat to seabirds and called for urgent action to end pollution.

“One third of global plastic production is non-recyclable and at least eight million tonnes of plastic flows unabated into our oceans and water bodies each year,” UN Environment Acting Executive Director Joyce Msuya said.

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She added that plastic bags end up in the stomachs of birds, fish, whales, and in soil and water affecting large proportions of some species.

Birds, she says, mistake plastic as food causing them to starve to death as their stomachs fill up with indigestible matter. “The world is choking on plastic and so too are our birds on which so much life on earth depends,” she noted.

Discarded fishing gear, the organisations also noted is responsible for most entanglements among birds at sea, in rivers, lakes and even on land.

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“Becoming entangled in fishing gear or plastic litter condemns birds to a slow, agonizing death” says Peter Ryan, Director of the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.

Research further shows that about 40 per cent of seabirds contain ingested plastic. Plastic accumulations can block or damage the digestive tract or give the animal a false sense of satiation, leading to malnutrition and starvation.

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To address plastic pollution, UN Environment launched the Clean Seas campaign in February 2017, urging individuals, governments and business to take concrete steps to reduce their plasticfootprints.

A recent resolution on seabird conservation adopted by African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement countries in December 2018, includes efforts to phase out single use plastics and to redesign plasticproducts to make them easier to recycle.

“It will require the joint efforts of governments, industry, municipalities, manufacturers and consumers to tackle the plastic problem. However, as this year’s World Migratory Bird Day underlines – everybody on this planet can be part of the solution and take steps to reduce single-use plastic,” said African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement Executive Secretary Jacques Trouvilliez.

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