The annual report on plastics in fulmars, collected along the Dutch coasts, has been published, adding new data from the year 2020. The amount of plastics decreases and, therefore, follows the trend observed in recent years.
20 years of international fulmar studies
While data on plastics in fulmars has been collected since the 1980’s in the Netherlands, it was the year 2002 when, for the first time, all North Sea countries collected and reported the plastic contents in fulmars that had beached on their coasts. Now, 20 years later, the fulmar monitoring program has become a good example for many countries and international groups on how to monitor plastics in the oceans.
In 2020, our loyal volunteers found 18 dead fulmars on Dutch beaches, 14 of which were suitable for the plastic monitoring study. The number of beached fulmars can vary between years, and 14 individuals is a small sample size. To compensate for these sometimes small numbers, data from the most recent 5 years are pooled. Over the most recent 5-year period (2016-2020) data from 139 fulmar stomachs were available. These birds contained, on average, 22.5 plastic items with an average mass of 0.21 gram per fulmar. Out of the 139 birds, 93% contained some plastics and 39% exceeded the plastic mass of 0.1 gram.
The long-term target is that less than 10% of the birds should exceed the 0.1 gram threshold. It remains clear that we are still far off this target, and that significant effort is still needed to reach that goal. Nevertheless, the new data show that a continuous, significantly decreasing trend can be observed over the short-term period as well as over the long term. This is likely caused by the increased awareness in the press and the public of the negative consequences of marine litter on marine organisms.
Times are changing
In 2020, several things have changed. Founder of the fulmar monitoring program, Jan van Franeker, retired on 1st January 2021. His successor, Susanne Kühn, is now in charge and has taken over all tasks. Jan remains involved in the fulmar studies by helping wherever needed and by dedicating his free time to the publication of old data, where so far, no time was available.
Another big change occurred in the terminology of the long-term target. In 2002 OSPAR (the ‘Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic’) decided that North Sea countries must work towards ‘Ecological Quality Objective’ (EcoQO). For marine litter, the fulmar was introduced as a suitable indicator species, with the target that less than 10% of the fulmars should have more than 0.1 gram of plastic in their stomachs. The term ‘EcoQO’ is now replaced by ‘Fulmar Threshold Value’ (Fulmar-TV). The threshold level itself remains unchanged. From this year on, the new term is used in our annual reports.
From this year on, not only are plastics in fulmar stomachs reported, but also paraffin-like substances. Paraffin is a synthetic wax that is transported by ship. Sometimes (e.g., during cleaning procedures), paraffin is released at sea and can be ingested by fulmars and other wildlife. In the most recent period, 2016-2020, 20% of the fulmars contained some of this material.
This recently published report can be downloaded here.
Taking a first look
For the past few years, we have been producing short photo reports of the plastics found in each fulmar. Every finder of a dead fulmar can take a look at what his or her bird has eaten. For the 2020 fulmars, you can find this report here.