The benefit of plastic ingestion research to marine wildlife could be improved greatly by establishing a stronger understanding of how discoveries could be integrated into conservation policy and practice.
The most valuable plastic ingestion research provides information that will help us to better choose between actions or help us identify new actions to achieve positive conservation outcomes.
Research that answers these questions for wildlife managers will be of the greatest value:
- 'Is plastic ingestion contributing to the decline of the population I manage?’
- 'How does it compare to other threats?’
- ‘Should I allocate resources to mitigating these impacts?’
Plastic debris found in the gut of a Dovekie - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27609235
Wildlife populations face an array of threats. Many of these are better understood than plastic pollution (e.g., over-exploitation, incidental catch, habitat destruction), and are obvious priorities for near-term conservation interventions.
However, there is little chance that plastic pollution is having no impact on wildlife. If we assume that further study will reveal plastic ingestion to have measurable, negative impacts on some populations, it is logical to think creatively about how impacts may be addressed.
Tackling this huge and growing problem will require global cooperation to identify specific, measurable, time-bound goals to reduce plastic waste from freely flowing into our oceans. This will likely take decades to achieve.
Plastic debris found in the gut of a Dovekie is stored in jars - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27609235
Research conducted so far has helped raise awareness of the threat of plastic, its effects, and created a movement of plastic prevention and finding alternative materials. The big benefits of plastic ingestion research will be seen when informed by a broader community with a better understanding of how research can be incorporated into conservation and policy actions.
Lead author Stephanie Avery-Gomm
Media: Stephanie Avery-Gomm, firstname.lastname@example.org, @saverygo; CEED Communications, Casey Fung, email@example.com