SCIENTISTS at a Scottish university have highlighted the dangers of marine pollution in a report that found almost three quarters of seabird species in the north-eastern Atlantic had ingested plastic.

The team, from North Highland College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute – part of the University of the Highland and Islands – and the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, say a co-ordinated approach is needed to gain a better understanding of the issue.

In their paper, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, the authors collated data from all known studies reporting instances of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation in seabirds around northern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, Svalbard, the Faroes and Iceland.

Dr Nina O’Hanlon, a seabird ecologist at the Thurso-based institute, who worked on the project, said: “Marine plastic pollution is an increasing and global environmental issue which poses a major threat to marine biodiversity.

“The production of plastic continues to rise with millions of tons entering the oceans each year. Seabirds can ingest plastic, become entangled in it or incorporate it into their nests, causing impacts which may have negative consequences on reproduction and survival.”

Dr Alex Bond, a senior conservation scientist with the RSPB, said: “Plastic never breaks down, it only breaks up into smaller fragments which remain in the environment and, as its density varies, it can be found throughout the water column, increasing the number of species which come into contact with it.”

O’Hanlon added: “In the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean there has been little effort to better understand how marine plastic affects different seabird species over time and regionally. We believe it’s vital to have a multi-jurisdictional, co-ordinated and collaborative effort to gain a more comprehensive and current understanding of this important issue.”