Tom Brock: Marine litter kills countless birds

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Through our live interactive cameras here at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, we see the best of Scotland’s amazing marine wildlife.

With our cameras on the Bass Rock and the islands of May, Fidra and Craigleith we see puffins, gannets, cormorants and many other seabirds breeding and nesting. We often see seals and, if we’re lucky, even dolphins and whales on our cameras or from our wide range of boat trips. We are so fortunate to have all this incredible wildlife on our doorstep.

However, in addition to seeing the best, we also see some of the worst. We see gannets lining their nests with litter. Litter disposed of by people and putting wildlife at risk. If it were only a case of seabirds using litter to line their nests, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a problem. But, sadly, it doesn’t stop there.

Marine litter can kill wildlife. Plastic – which makes up most of our marine litter – can be broken down into small pieces in the sea and be mistaken for food by birds. The digestive problems they encounter as a result can kill them. A similar problem occurs with plastic bags, which can be mistaken for jellyfish by feeding dolphins and turtles.

Throughout the world, over a million seabirds and 100,000 other marine animals die after eating or becoming entangled in litter. Scotland is not exempt. There are almost 1700 pieces of litter for every kilometre of Scotland’s coastline.

The good news is we can fix this. Marine litter is caused by people, and can be solved by people. Whether that’s beachgoers leaving behind a plastic bag or a resident flushing a sanitary product down the toilet.

The Scottish Seabird Centre is working with a number of partner charities to raise awareness of the lethal effects of litter. Our partners Keep Scotland Beautiful run a national anti-litter campaign called Clean Up Scotland, as well as running the Scottish Seaside Awards, which award quality beaches including two right beside us in North Berwick, as well as Portobello and a number of others down the east coast. Similarly, we support the excellent work of the Marine Conservation Society in protecting our marine life. We all need to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Nearly half of Europe’s seabirds nest in Scotland. Wildlife tourism is now firmly established as a very important part of Scotland’s tourism economy. We have fantastic beaches enjoyed by both locals and visitors. Let’s keep Scotland beautiful and our wildlife safe!

Tom Brock is the chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre