Schuyler Q, Hardesty BD, Wilcox C, Townsend K (2012) To Eat or Not to Eat? Debris Selectivity by Marine Turtles. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40884. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040884
Marine debris is a growing problem for wildlife, and has been documented to affect more than 267 species worldwide. We investigated the prevalence of marine debris ingestion in 115 sea turtles stranded in Queensland between 2006–2011, and assessed how the ingestion rates differ between species (Eretmochelys imbricata vs. Chelonia mydas) and by turtle size class (smaller oceanic feeders vs. larger benthic feeders). Concurrently, we conducted 25 beach surveys to estimate the composition of the debris present in the marine environment. Based on this proxy measurement of debris availability, we modeled turtles’ debris preferences (color and type) using a resource selection function, a method traditionally used for habitat and food selection. We found no significant difference in the overall probability of ingesting debris between the two species studied, both of which have similar life histories. Curved carapace length, however, was inversely correlated with the probability of ingesting debris; 54.5% of pelagic sized turtles had ingested debris, whereas only 25% of benthic feeding turtles were found with debris in their gastrointestinal system. Benthic and pelagic sized turtles also exhibited different selectivity ratios for debris ingestion. Benthic phase turtles had a strong selectivity for soft, clear plastic, lending support to the hypothesis that sea turtles ingest debris because it resembles natural prey items such as jellyfish. Pelagic turtles were much less selective in their feeding, though they showed a trend towards selectivity for rubber items such as balloons. Most ingested items were plastic and were positively buoyant. This study highlights the need to address increasing amounts of plastic in the marine environment, and provides evidence for the disproportionate ingestion of balloons by marine turtles.
Ramirez-Llodra E, Tyler PA, Baker MC, Bergstad OA, Clark MR, et al. (2011) Man and the Last Great Wilderness: Human Impact on the Deep Sea. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22588. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022588
The deep sea, the largest ecosystem on Earth and one of the least studied, harbours high biodiversity and provides a wealth of resources. Although humans have used the oceans for millennia, technological developments now allow exploitation of fisheries resources, hydrocarbons and minerals below 2000 m depth. The remoteness of the deep seafloor has promoted the disposal of residues and litter. Ocean acidification and climate change now bring a new dimension of global effects. Thus the challenges facing the deep sea are large and accelerating, providing a new imperative for the science community, industry and national and international organizations to work together to develop successful exploitation management and conservation of the deep-sea ecosystem. This paper provides scientific expert judgement and a semi-quantitative analysis of past, present and future impacts of human-related activities on global deep-sea habitats within three categories: disposal, exploitation and climate change. The analysis is the result of a Census of Marine Life – SYNDEEP workshop (September 2008). A detailed review of known impacts and their effects is provided. The analysis shows how, in recent decades, the most significant anthropogenic activities that affect the deep sea have evolved from mainly disposal (past) to exploitation (present). We predict that from now and into the future, increases in atmospheric CO2 and facets and consequences of climate change will have the most impact on deep-sea habitats and their fauna. Synergies between different anthropogenic pressures and associated effects are discussed, indicating that most synergies are related to increased atmospheric CO2 and climate change effects. We identify deep-sea ecosystems we believe are at higher risk from human impacts in the near future: benthic communities on sedimentary upper slopes, cold-water corals, canyon benthic communities and seamount pelagic and benthic communities. We finalise this review with a short discussion on protection and management methods.
Young LC, Vanderlip C, Duffy DC, Afanasyev V, Shaffer SA (2009) Bringing Home the Trash: Do Colony-Based Differences in Foraging Distribution Lead to Increased Plastic Ingestion in Laysan Albatrosses? PLoS ONE 4(10): e7623. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007623
When searching for prey, animals should maximize energetic gain, while minimizing energy expenditure by altering their movements relative to prey availability. However, with increasing amounts of marine debris, what once may have been ‘optimal’ foraging strategies for top marine predators, are leading to sub-optimal diets comprised in large part of plastic. Indeed, the highly vagile Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) which forages throughout the North Pacific, are well known for their tendency to ingest plastic. Here we examine whether Laysan albatrosses nesting on Kure Atoll and Oahu Island, 2,150 km apart, experience different levels of plastic ingestion. Twenty two geolocators were deployed on breeding adults for up to two years. Regurgitated boluses of undigestable material were also collected from chicks at each site to compare the amount of plastic vs. natural foods. Chicks from Kure Atoll were fed almost ten times the amount of plastic compared to chicks from Oahu despite boluses from both colonies having similar amounts of natural food. Tracking data indicated that adults from either colony did not have core overlapping distributions during the early half of the breeding period and that adults from Kure had a greater overlap with the putative range of the Western Garbage Patch corroborating our observation of higher plastic loads at this colony. At-sea distributions also varied throughout the year suggesting that Laysan albatrosses either adjusted their foraging behavior according to constraints on time away from the nest or to variation in resources. However, in the non-breeding season, distributional overlap was greater indicating that the energy required to reach the foraging grounds was less important than the total energy available. These results demonstrate how a marine predator that is not dispersal limited alters its foraging strategy throughout the reproductive cycle to maximize energetic gain and how this has led to differences in plastic ingestion.