Fight to save seabirds trapped in plastic

Conservationists have mounted a rescue mission to save dozens of seabirds trapped in plastic and Sky News was given exclusive access to the operation.

The RSPB landed on Grassholm island, eight miles off the Pembrokeshire coast, to cut free young gannets from the fishing ropes and nets that adults use to build nests.

Video:A painful death on ‘plastic island’

Greg Morgan, warden for the RSPB reserve, said there is so much fishing gear floating in the water around the island that the birds mistake it for the seaweed that they should be using.

Image:Plastic twine is cut away from seabirds

He said: “We estimate there are 18 tonnes of plastic in the nests on the island.

“The chicks sit on the nest. As they turn, the plastic gets twisted around their leg and ensnares them.

“They should have flown away by now. Eventually the adults give up and they are left to starve.”

Image:Surveys show 80% of the nests on Grassholm island contain plastic

We saw birds with plastic twine twisted so tight around their legs that it had cut through to the bone.

Other birds were already dead, their feet tethered to the nest by rope.

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Video:Plastic voyage uncovers ocean plagued with pollution

Surveys show 80% of the nests on Grassholm contain plastic. Some of it is swept from as far as North America by the Gulf Stream.

The RSPB lands on the island every October, when most of the gannets have flown south for the winter, to save as many of the remaining birds as they can.

Over the 12 years that conservationists have been landing on the island, they’ve cut free 637 birds.

Video:Coca-Cola’s big rethink on plastics

“This is out of sight, out of mind,” said Mr Morgan.

“People have no idea that this (plastic) is coursing through our seas. We need to raise awareness”

Lisa Morgan, also an RSPB warden (and Greg’s wife), admitted that they are firefighting. There is too much plastic to remove – and even attempting a clear-up could put the whole colony at risk.

“Birds use the same nests every year,” she said.

Video:Sky News Special Report: Our Ocean

“If we were to take all of that away, remove all the nests, it would destroy the way the gannetry is built up over time. It’s just not an option.

“Gannets love this stuff. Once it is here it will be here for many years to come.”

Plastic fishing nets, ropes and pots are a growing problem. Worldwide 640,000 tonnes a year break free and drift through the oceans, harming wildlife.

Video:A look back at the Ocean Rescue conference

Sarah Parmor, a volunteer, said: “It makes you feel angry. If people could see (the plastic) here it would make them think about what they are doing in their own lives.

“When you have a bird in your arms with plastic around its neck or wings it makes it more real, the damage that plastic is doing to animals.”

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