Competition Photograph Highlights Plight of Plastic Nest Building Seabirds

plastic nesting seabirds simon pierce

The picture of gannets nesting using plastic was 'highly commended' at UPY2020 (Photo: Simon J. Pierce/Marine Megafauna Foundation; Nature Tripper)

A photo of gannets using discarded nets and ropes to build their nests highlights the increasing problem of plastic pollution on marine life. The image was 'highly commended' in the 'Marine Conservation' category of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020 competition, the results of which were announced on Saturday, 22 February 2020.

Dr Simon J Pierce, a principal scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation and wildlife photographer for Nature Tripper magazine, captured the image at Runde Island, off the southern coast of Norway. The island is a seasonal home to over half a million seabirds, including the northern gannets he was there to photograph.

'We were bouncing around in a small boat, so it was tough to compose a photo,' said Pierce. 'I could see some colour among the gannets’ nests on the cliff, and I was pretty sure there weren’t supposed to be bright colours in seabird nests, so I bumped my shutter speed up and hoped for the best. When I downloaded the pictures to my computer later, I just gasped. The nests were overflowing with fishing debris.'

plastic nests simon j pierce

Dr Simon J Pierce, principal scientist at MMF and photographer for Nature Tripper (Photo: Simon J Pierce/Marine Megafauna FoundationNature Tripper)

Gannets normally build their nests from seaweed and grass floating on the ocean’s surface near the island. Increasingly, the seabirds are using discarded netting, ropes, and packaging straps from fisheries instead. This fishing waste seems to be becoming more common than the natural materials they instinctively gather. A recent survey at Runde Island found that 97 per cent of nests contained man-made debris. Newborn chicks, and even adult gannets, are routinely entangled and killed in these tough and non-biodegradable materials.

Peter Rowlands, Chair of the Judging Committee for the 2020 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition said: 'We have given [the birds] no choice. Their natural materials of seaweed and grass have been smothered by indestructible ghost traps which fishermen have lost or intentionally discarded. We, and the fishermen especially, should hang our heads in shame and then do everything in our power to reverse this.' 

mmf microplastic manta and plastic

Manta rays and whale sharks are ingesting vast quantities of microplastic (Photo: Marine Megafauna Foundation)

Scientists are increasingly revealing the insidious threat posed by plastic pollution. Elitza Germanov, also a researcher from the Marine Megafauna Foundation and PhD candidate at Murdoch University, has been investigating the presence of plastics in feeding areas used manta rays and whale sharks in Indonesia. 'Manta rays and whale sharks are large filter-feeding fish that can ingest microplastics directly from polluted water or indirectly through the contaminated plankton they feed on,' said Germanov. 'With time, plastics break down into smaller pieces called microplastics that these large marine filter feeders might accidentally scoop up because they float among their prey.'

Germanov’s research found that reef manta rays foraging in the waters off Bali and in Komodo National Park may swallow up to 63 pieces of plastic every hour. Whale sharks that seasonally visit the island of Java are even more affected, ingesting up to 137 bits of plastic each hour.

Pierce says that, for the gannets at least, a quick turnaround in fortune is possible. 'Reducing the fishing pressure near nesting colonies has been shown to lead to fast and measurable declines in the number of affected nests,' he said. 'That suggests a range of practical solutions, such as reducing the pollution from the fishing boats themselves, minimise net fisheries in the local region, or create protected areas that allow the ecosystem and nesting areas to recover.'

'There’s a lot we can do as consumers,' added Pierce. 'But it’s clear that industries that use plastics in single-use packaging, and the fishing industry that is responsible for a lot of the discards seen here in Norway, need to come to the table and help to fix this.'



Love diving? You'll love these. Sign up today to immediately download our unique FREE gifts -

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 WRECKS - DIVE's 70-page, beautifully illustrated, colour guide to the world’s best wrecks

SCUBA STORIES - DIVE's collection f real life stories where divers, who have got themselves into perilous situations, describe how they reacted and what actions they took to ensure they lived to tell the tale

PACIFICHighlights of the Pacific - Dancing mantas in Hawaii • The Best Diving in the World, Galápagos, Cocos, Malpelo & Socorro • Mass Spawning Events in Palau

Sidebar SUBSCRIBE spring 21 large2

Destinations Spotlight

Need inspiration for your next dive trip? Try one of our featured destinations from DIVE's travel partners.

sidebar philippines sidebar bahamas sidebar mexico sidebar fiji sidebar st helena 2020 Sidebar Egypt sidebar banner sabah sidebar banner belize sidebar banner south africa

DIVE Partners

sidebar banner egypt new ceningan divers ad 300x100 LH 300 min giphy subex Wakatobi Siladen Aggressor Fisheye Dive Worldwide gozo banner Arenui

Read DIVE magazine

DIVE magazine is available to read on many devices. Simply click one one of the options below

PCMac final
Apple finalAndroid final

Like what you see?

Join us on social and keep updated daily...