[MARMAM] Plastic pollution within a marine protected area identifies threats for endangered northern bottlenose whales

Laura Joan Feyrer laura.joan at gmail.com
Mon Mar 20 19:14:56 PDT 2023


>
> For those tracking trends in microplastic pollution and the impacts on
marine mammals, our latest collaborative publication: "Long term trends in
floating plastic pollution within a marine protected area identifies
threats for endangered northern bottlenose whales" is now available online
and is open access at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2023.115686

Kelly, N.E., Feyrer, L., Gavel, H., Trela, O., Ledwell, W., Breeze, H.,
Marotte, E.C., McConney, L. and Whitehead, H., 2023. Long term trends in
floating plastic pollution within a marine protected area identifies
threats for endangered northern bottlenose whales. Environmental Research,
p.115686.

*Highlights*

• Plastics from multiple sources pollute an offshore marine protected area.
• The amount of large plastics decreased while small plastics increased
over time.
• Oceanographic features may trap plastics increasing encounter rates for
whales.
• Whales are ingesting plastics consistent with the types found in surface
waters.
• Plastic ingestion should be considered in recovery plans for endangered
whales.

*Abstract*

“The Gully”, situated off Nova Scotia, Canada, is the largest submarine
canyon in the western North Atlantic. This unique oceanographic feature,
which became a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2004, is rich in marine
biodiversity and is part of the critical habitat of Endangered northern
bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus). To understand the potential
impact of plastic pollution in the MPA and on this endangered cetacean, we
evaluated trends over time in the abundance and composition of plastics and
compared these to the stomach contents of recently stranded northern
bottlenose whales. From the 1990s–2010s, the median abundance of
micro-sized (<5 mm) and small plastics (5 mm–2.5 cm) increased
significantly, while the median abundance of large plastics (>2.5 cm)
decreased significantly. Plastic abundance from the 2010s for micro-sized
and small plastics varied from 5586–438 196 particles km−2, higher than
previously measured estimates for surrounding offshore areas. Polymers
identified using FTIR spectroscopy included polyethylene, polypropylene,
polyethylene terephthalate polyester, nylon, alkyds (paint), and natural
and semi-synthetic cellulosic fibers. The abundance of large debris ranged
from 0 to 108.6 items km−2 and consisted of plastic sheets and bags, food
wrappers and containers, rope, fishing buoys, and small plastic fragments.
Whale stomach contents contained fragments of fishing nets, ropes, bottle
caps, cups, food wrappers, smaller plastic fragments, fibers, and paint
flakes, consistent with the composition and character of items collected
from their critical habitat. Despite being far from centres of human
population, the unique oceanographic features of The Gully (i.e., currents
and bathymetric complexity) may concentrate plastic debris, increasing
exposure rates of whales to plastic pollution. The increase in micro-sized
and small plastics over time suggests associated health and welfare impacts
of ingested plastics should be accounted for in future recovery plans for
this endangered species.
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