Bad news, party planners: their balloons kill birds. A new study discovered by Live Science shows that these colorful decorations often land in our oceans, where seabirds take them for squid and eat them.
The Australian research team studied more than 1700 seabirds belonging to 51 different species. Every third bird had plastic in its systems. The researchers also found that the birds had a 20 percent chance of dying after picking up a single piece of debris. Although hard plastics were consumed in larger quantities by seabirds, balloons proved far more lethal. Eating them is "32 times more likely to kill than taking hard plastic," the researchers write in their paper published in the journal Scientific Reports .
"The uptake of maritime debris is now a globally recognized threat," said Lauren Roman, who led the study, in a statement. "Among the birds studied, the main cause of death was a blockage of the gastrointestinal tract, followed by infections or other complications caused by gastrointestinal obstruction."
The study also showed another surprising statistic: 99 percent of all seabird species are predicted to receive marine litter by 2050. This is of great importance in Australia, where the world's largest biodiversity of seabirds resides. Albatross and Petrelbird species are particularly vulnerable, but the exact role that debris plays therein is not fully understood.
Last December's survey found microplastic materials in the gut of all seven sea turtle species studied, including endangered green turtle and critically endangered loggerhead turtles and Kemps Ridley turtles. However, these particles are smaller than balloon tips, and the consequences of microplastic ingestion are still under investigation.
Researchers believe that the most obvious and immediate solution is to reduce the amount of waste entering the sea.
[h/t Live Science]