Using photographs to record plastic in seabird nests

Date of publication 29 June 2020

Authors Ryan, Peter G.

Sources Marine pollution bulletin : 156, 111262.



The incidence of plastic in seabird nests can be used to track changes in the amounts of marine debris, but large sample sizes are needed for accurate estimates. Surveys of active nests cause disturbance to breeding birds, so we need an efficient way to sample nest plastics. Photographs of brown noddy Anous stolidus nests at Ducie Atoll, southeast Pacific Ocean, allowed rapid characterisation of plastic use with limited disturbance, and showed selection for blue-green items. Plastic was more prevalent in noddy nests at Ducie Atoll (97%) than at Inaccessible Island, South Atlantic Ocean (41%), despite lower debris densities at Ducie. Differences in nesting habitat and the resultant availability of natural nesting material drive this difference in plastic loads. Using photographs to record plastic in seabird nests reduces disturbance to breeding birds and might decrease the risk of missing cryptic debris items. Photographs also provide a permanent record of pollution levels.

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