Northern fulmars as signposts in international marine policy

News

Northern fulmars as signposts in international marine policy

Published on
August 17, 2017

The secretariat for the ‘Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic’ (OSPAR) has opened a web portal for the assessment of the status of the marine environment.

OSPAR portal on the status of the sea

The secretariat for the ‘Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic’ (OSPAR) has opened a web portal for the assessment of the status of the marine environment. This assessment is done in view of commitments related to the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Within the MSFD, European member states have agreed to work towards a ‘Good Environmental Status (GES)’ with targets to be reached by the year 2020. The web portal presents the results for an intermediate assessment of the status of our seas up to 2014.  The status of marine litter is discussed by the indicators for beach litter, litter at the sea bottom, and the quantities of plastics in stomachs of northern fulmars. Wageningen Marine Research was commissioned by the Dutch Rijkswaterstaat to prepare the fulmar evaluation

Good Environmental Status – a long way to go

North Sea-wide investigations of stomach contents of northern fulmars around the North Sea started around 2002. Data for five different subareas show that since then, up to 2014, no detectable change has occurred. Pollution in the Channel area is the worst, but the whole of the North Sea is substantially more polluted that areas further to the north.

Plastics from a fulmar stomach with industrial granules (lower left) and threadlike (top left) and a mix of fragmented, sheet-like and foamed (right) consumer plastics
Plastics from a fulmar stomach with industrial granules (lower left) and threadlike (top left) and a mix of fragmented, sheet-like and foamed (right) consumer plastics

Well over 90% of fulmars in the North Sea has some plastic in the stomach. For 58% of the birds the quantity of plastics exceeds the threshold of 0.1g. OSPAR has set a long term target that at most 10% of fulmars may exceed the 0.1g threshold. The European MSFD has not yet made a fixed target for GES in the year 2020. But the level observed up to 2014 and lack of clear improvement make it very clear that there is a lot of work ahead. Aiming for improvements, OSPAR members have prepared a regional action plan.

For full information on the fulmar assessment, please see:

OSPAR (2017): OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017. Plastic Particles in Fulmar Stomachs in the North Sea. OSPAR Assessment Portal OAP