Seal pup hotspots threatened by tiny plastic pellets, conservationists warn

Tiny fragments from manufacturing process found littering beaches in Norfolk where marine mammals breed

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 07 February 2019 13:01 GMT
Seal injured by discarded plastic air filter learns to swim upright again in Norfolk sea life sanctuary

Seal breeding grounds in the UK are littered with tiny pellets of plastic, a conservation group has warned.

Fauna & Flora International staff spent two days scouring the beaches of Norfolk where grey seals gather to give birth to their pups every year.

More than 3,000 pups were born at Blakeney National Nature Reserve over the winter, while a record 2,000 were born on the nearby beach at Horsey.

The team found pellets, known as “nurdles”, thought to pollute British waters in their billions, scattered across these protected sites.

Nurdles are small pieces of plastics that are produced and melted together to create all kinds of products.

Unintentional spillages add to the overall burden of pollution in the ocean and seals are known to ingest tiny fragments of plastic that end up inside their prey.

While scientists are still not sure how harmful these plastics are to animal health, there is some evidence they can transport dangerous chemical contaminants such as pesticides into their bodies.

There are thought to be at least 53 billion nurdles entering British seas every year.

“All companies that make, use and transport nurdles must take action to stop these microplastics polluting Britain’s beaches and damaging critical habitats for our iconic seal colonies,” said Dilyana Mihaylova, marine plastics projects manager at Fauna & Flora International.

“It is clear that nurdle pollution continues to be a chronic problem despite some voluntary efforts to prevent it. The plastics industry needs to implement robust measures across its entire supply chain to stop nurdle pollution.”

In an effort to understand how widespread the problem of nurdle pollution is, the group has helped organise a “great global nurdle hunt” involving volunteers collecting data from beaches around the world.

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