This background document reports on the development of an ecological quality objective (EcoQO) for plastic particles in stomachs of seabirds. This work responds to the agreement at the 5th North Sea Conference in 2002 that an EcoQO should be developed and applied in the framework of OSPAR for the ecological quality element on plastic particles in seabird stomachs.
The occurrence of plastics (and other man-made types of litter) in the marine environment is due solely to human activity and can therefore be controlled by human management. Marine litter, especially plastics, causes ecological damage to a wide range of marine organisms, including at least marine mammals, birds, turtles and fish as a result of the entanglement with, or ingestion of, plastic. The Northern Fulmar is a particularly convenient species to measure plastic pollution by stomach content analysis. Like the whole group of 'tubenosed' seabirds (the albatrosses and petrels), it frequently ingests plastic litter. The Fulmar is particularly abundant in the North Sea, forages exclusively at sea (unlike e.g. gulls), retains slowly digesting materials in the stomach, and thereby 'integrates' litter pollution levels encountered at sea. Sources of plastic litter in the North Sea area are: i) ship's garbage and operational or cargo-related wastes; ii) lost and discarded fisheries materials from vessels and mariculture; iii) land-based wastes from coastal or riverine disposal; and iv) recreational littering.
In 2005, following an initial phase of work in collaboration with ICES, the OSPAR report on the North Sea Pilot Project concluded on the formulation for an EcoQO based upon the number of plastic particles found in the stomachs of fulmars. However, at the same time, OSPAR noted the recommendation from the Save the North Sea Project Fulmar Study for a formulation based upon the weight of plastic particles found. OSPAR asked ICES to consider these recommendations further. This background document has been prepared by Dr J. A Franker of Wageningen-IMARES under contract to the Netherlands Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, taking into account the advice prepared by ICES. The document proposes and evaluates the background for the following formulation for the EcoQO:
There should be less than 10% of northern fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis) having more than 0.1 g plastic particles in the stomach in samples of 50 to 100 beach-washed fulmars found in winter (November to April) from each of 4 to 5 areas of the North Sea over a period of at least five years
The document includes an evaluation of current and historic levels in relation to the EcoQO together with proposals for potential management measures to reach the EcoQO and an estimation of the potential costs of monitoring in relation to the EcoQO.