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Plastic ingestion by northern fulmars: assessment by a non-lethal sampling method

Awarded: NOK 0.17 mill.

Plastic pollution is a major concern worldwide and the Arctic is no exception. Svalbard, and especially the Kongsfjorden area, is of high relevance because it receives both Arctic and Atlantic waters, the latter being expected to bring up plastics and the Kongsfjorden fauna is considered as an early warning indicator of climate change which might affect plastic levels in the Arctic. The northern fulmar is a biomonitoring species for plastic pollution in the North Sea and is one of the most studied animals in the Arctic in the frame of monitoring. In Svalbard, only one study fully focused on plastic ingestion by northern fulmars Fulmarus glacialis, revealing that 87% of individuals had ingested plastic. Preliminary results in Kongsfjorden reveals that even more fulmars had ingested plastics, including young ones. Here, we aim to test a ultrasound portable scanner on 15 living fulmar fledglings to detect plastic ingestion and verify our observations by analysing their stomach contents afterwards. Prior to the fieldwork, the scanner will be tested on dead birds already stored in Tromsø. The fieldwork will be then done in early September 2021 for physiological and practical reasons: at that time, the fledglings are at sea but not able to fly yet. They can then be easily caught with a handling net from a high speed boat. The extraction of plastic particles will be performed in Tromsø thanks to a common protocol, and spectroscopic analyses will identify those particles. The scanning images will be compared to the plastic levels in the bird stomachs. If this technique is successful, that might prevent the killing of birds for plastic pollution research. In addition, these results will implement data from fulmars sampled in 1997, 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2020. These sample sets will define a trend in plastic levels and therefore provide valuable results in the frame of monitoring plastic pollution in the Arctic.