Biologists discover why seabirds eat floating plastic

Biologists discover why seabirds eat floating plastic

Sea animals and birds mistake floating plastic as food and eat it up because it actually smells like food, a new study by UC Davis researchers suggested.

Millions of tones of plastic waste end up in seas and oceans, where hungry seabirds, turtles and other marine creatures eat it. Until now, biologists were not sure why sea animals and birds eat plastic while it doesn't taste good. Now, the new study claims to have discovered the chemical clue to why these creatures eat plastic.

The researchers determined that as the smell of hamburger on the grill wafting through the house attracts a hungry human, the smell of plastic floating in oceans emits odors that tempt to seabirds and other animals.

Biologist Matthew Savoca explained that it all comes down to a type of algae floating in marine water. This type of algae serves as food for tiny creatures like krill or zooplankton. When the krill consume the algae, it emits a chemical known as dimethyl sulfide. The smell of the chemical attracts birds and other animals. They concluded that sea creatures mistakenly eat floating plastic because it is often covered with that stinky algae.

Sharing findings of the study, Savoca added, "Think of it as like a dinner bell. So if we heard a dinner bell ringing, the dinner bell would signify where we could find food. All this plastic reeked of that sulfur compound, likely due to the algae that coated it when it was out at sea."

The researchers also warned fish also could be eating floating plastic for the same reason, and it could have severe consequences not only for fish but also for humans who eat them.


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