The animals that are being harmed by plastic bags

Published
image copyrightRebecca Hosking

The good news is the number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches has dropped by around 40 per cent in a year.

The Marine Conservation Society's (MCS) latest report found seven bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned compared to 11 in 2015.

It's the lowest number in 10 years and is being put down to the introduction of the 5p charge on single-use plastic bags.

But the bad news is that plastic bags are still harming marine life. Many animals try to eat them, mistaking them for food.

image copyrightGetty Images

According to the MCS, animals that eat plastic bags feel a "false sensation of fullness or satiation" as the litter can stay in the stomach and lead to infections, starvation and death.

Sea birds

image copyrightGetty Images

Between 1982 and 2001, researchers looked into the stomach contents of dead fulmars from the Netherlands.

They found that 96% of the birds had plastic fragments in their stomachs, with an average of 23 plastic pieces per bird.

image copyrightRichard Harrington
image captionThese gannets on Grassholm Island off Pembrokeshire died after eating plastic bags

Turtles

image copyrightPeter Richardson
image captionThis green turtle won't get much satisfaction from a plastic bag

Turtles like to eat jellyfish and squid, and plastic bags can look like them.

Plastic bags have been found in the stomachs of green turtles, loggerhead turtles, hawksbill turtle and leatherback turtles.

Albatross

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionNot much edible food here for the albatross

Like turtles, the albatross can also mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and squid.

Minke whale

image copyrightGetty Images

Plastic bags have also been found in the stomachs of whales.

In April 2002 a dead Minke whale washed up on the Normandy coast.

The picture below shows the inside of its stomach.

It contained 800g of plastic bags and packaging including two supermarket plastic bags from the UK.

image copyrightGerard Mauger

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