Birds ingesting plastic 'no cause for alarm'

THE Eliza Cove rubbish tip plastic waste is being ingested by wildlife according to a report by Dr Amélie Augé of the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI).
However the Falkland Islands Government Waste Management Coordinator does not see it as a major problem.

“Abstract plastic pollution is becoming an increasing issue for wildlife throughout the world. Even remote areas with relatively little human activity are affected,” writes Dr Augé.
She told Penguin News that last winter she  analysed pellets from turkey vultures in Stanley to determine how much plastic (and other human products) they ingested. 

The results show that, in winter, the turkeys feed on human waste over 60 per cent of the time and ingest plastic on most occasions. 

There are also other birds (gulls in particular) that also feed at the Stanley tip . 

Plastic ingestion can cause some health issues in birds while access to food waste may also artificially increase some bird numbers by making food available.
In a paper published in the journal Polar Biology Dr Augé recommends that human waste management be improved, “to ensure that wildlife access to rubbish is reduced and that rubbish is contained. 

“Monitoring the anthropogenic debris content of turkey vulture pellets could allow monitoring of improvements in waste management. 
The Falkland Islands Government is not troubled by the report however.

Waste Management Coordinator Felicity Sawle told Penguin News: “Safeguarding the environment is one the basic principles of effective waste management, however the results of one study should not be cause for alarm. 

“The study was conducted during winter when food sources for scavenging birds are more scarce, pushing them towards feeding more regularly on human-derived waste materials, and the results are drawn from a limited sample base at one location. 

“It is entirely possible that Turkey Vultures will continue to ingest plastics even if the Eliza Cove landfill was moved or upgraded, just from a different location. 

“That said, waste management is an issue for the Falklands and ways to improve or better our waste management system should not be ignored or over looked. 

“While continued monitoring of the anthropogenic contents of Vulture pellets might provide some insight to the health and size of the Vulture population, such information would have limited applications in assessing the success or not of waste management practices.”

Penguin News invited Dr Augé to respond to Miss Sawle’s comments.

She said: “I do agree that it was only in winter and in Stanley and the recommendations in the paper are that further studies should be conducted in other seasons, at other sites and on other species indeed to understand the extent of the issue. 

“And indeed the open tip will not be the only source of waste for the turkeys to feed on, but is likely currently the major one.”