Linking plastic ingestion research with wildlife conservation

Plastic pollution is a ‘wicked problem’ – that is ‘a problem whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point’. We can see action on stemming the flow of plastic into the ocean is gaining traction, but we need to recognise the problem is already here. So, how do we manage species conservation in a plasticene world?

I recently co-authored a paper in Science of the Total Environment (PDF here) about why and how we need to be better at linking plastic ingestion research with wildlife conservation, so that we can build tools to better manage the impacts of plastic ingestion on vulnerable species, like seabirds.


Plastic is an increasingly pervasive marine pollutant. Concomitantly, the number of studies documenting plastic ingestion in wildlife is accelerating. Many of these studies aim to provide a baseline against which future levels of plastic ingestion can be compared, and are motivated by an underlying interest in the conservation of their study species and ecosystems. Although this research has helped to raise the profile of plastic as a pollutant of emerging concern, there is a disconnect between research examining plastic pollution and wildlife conservation. We present ideas to further discussion about how plastic ingestion research could benefit wildlife conservation by prioritising studies that elucidates the significance of plastic pollution as a population-level threat, identifies vulnerable populations, and evaluates strategies for mitigating impacts. The benefit of plastic ingestion research to marine wildlife can be improved by establishing a clearer understanding of how discoveries will be integrated into conservation and policy actions.



Figure design by Jessie Borrelle @Moreorlessie

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