Balloons Are the No. 1 Marine Debris Risk of Mortality for Seabirds

A grey-headed albatross at autopsy with balloon debris. (Image: Lauren Roman)
A grey-headed albatross at autopsy with balloon debris. (Image: Lauren Roman)

A new IMAS and CSIRO collaborative study has found that balloons are the highest-risk plastic debris item for seabirds — they are 32 times more likely to kill than ingesting hard plastics. Researchers from IMAS, CSIRO, and ACE CRC looked at the cause of death of 1,733 seabirds from 51 species and found that one in three of the birds had ingested marine debris.

The data showed that a seabird ingesting a single piece of plastic had a 20 percent chance of mortality, rising to 50 percent for nine items, and 100 percent for 93 items. Led by former IMAS-CSIRO Ph.D. student Dr. Lauren Roman and published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study found that although hard plastic accounts for the vast majority of debris ingested, it is far less likely to kill than soft plastics, such as balloons. Dr. Roman said:

white headed petrel at autopsy with balloon debris. (Credit: Lauren Roman)

A white-headed petrel at autopsy with balloon debris. (Credit: Lauren Roman)

CSIRO co-author Dr. Chris Wilcox said the approach taken in the study was first developed for turtles before being applied to seabirds:

Black browed albatross dead at sea with balloon string. (Credit Todd Burrows)

A black-browed albatross dead at sea with a balloon string. (Image: Todd Burrows)

Dr. Roman said that although the study showed that soft items like balloons are more dangerous, all plastics pose a mortal threat to seabirds:

Provided by: University of Tasmania [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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