CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- Plastic can already be found in the guts of the vast majority of seabirds.
A recent survey found plastic in the guts of 60 percent of sea bird specimens, and scientists estimate that 90 percent have accidentally ingested some type of plastic -- whether it's plastic microbeads, synthetic fibers, plastic bags or bottle caps.
The evidence suggests by 2050, 99 percent of seabirds will have accidentally eaten plastic.
The new study, published in the journal PNAS, is another reminder of the growing problem of the pollution plaguing the planet's oceans and coastlines. As plastics continue to accumulate in the world's oceans, the waste is being pulled out of the bellies of all sorts of marine animals -- fish, mammals and birds.
"For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species -- and the results are striking," study co-author Chris Wilcox, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, said in a press release. "We predict, using historical observations, that 90 percent of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution."
The pollution has the largest impact on marine life in areas where currents bring high volumes of waste in contact with a variety of species. The birds, fish and mammals living in and around the ocean waters at the southern edges of Australia, South Africa and South America are especially vulnerable.
"Finding such widespread estimates of plastic in seabirds is borne out by some of the fieldwork we've carried out where I've found nearly 200 pieces of plastic in a single seabird," added co-author Denise Hardesty, another researcher at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere.
The researchers' field work was aided by data collected as part of volunteer beach cleanups.
Birds may ingest plastic accidentally, while fishing, or they may mistake a bright piece of trash for food. Plastic in a bird's stomach can cause weight loss, sickness and sometimes death.
The research comes just days after scientists in England blamed the cosmetics industry for the some 80 million tons of microplastics that end up in the environment each year.