The matter of plastic

25 02 2009

In her comment on yesterday’s post, blog visitor Julie made a valid point about marking carcasses found on the beach. SEANET wants to be certain that carcasses are marked in a permanent or at least semi-permanent fashion so that we can avoid double counting birds that persist on beaches for days or weeks. In examining the model of the very successful COASST beached bird survey program on the west coast, we have learned that attaching plastic cable ties to carcasses is the most durable method.

COASST volunteers document a beached bird. Click on the photo to visit COASST's website.

COASST volunteers document a beached bird. Click on the photo to visit COASST's website.

Julie’s comment suggested that adding more plastic debris to the coastal environment might not be a sound environmental strategy. SEANET has wrestled with that fact, dedicated as we are to benefiting, not harming the oceans and their inhabitants.

The COASST program justifies the use of plastic ties by pointing out that the volume of plastic is imperceptible, and is outweighed by the value of generating high-quality, reliable environmental data. This thinking is similar to that of biologists who band birds; the number of plastic bands out in the environment is tiny and the benefits to scientific understanding are comparatively enormous.

SEANET would like to offer our volunteers a compromise; while we will continue to recommend cable ties as the preferred method of carcass marking, we suggest that volunteers uncomfortable with doing so simply remove the carcass from the beach entirely and dispose of it offsite. This will ensure that the bird is not re-sighted on that beach and counted again.

Thanks to Julie for the comment. Keep them coming everyone!

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One response

2 03 2009
Avi Lewis

I am bothered by the introduction of more plastic (cable ties) to our beaches, despite the rationale (rationalization?) presented. Cable ties seem remarkable, even among plastics, in their persistence, from my experience with them in marine applications; plastic cable ties used to secure shackles at the top of mooring buoys typically have to be removed with clippers even after years of exposure to temperature extremes, UV, salt water, and urban atmospheric pollution.
We’ve been clipping toes consistently and I doubt we’ve ever re-counted a carcass; it’s relatively rare that we re-find even those toe-clipped carcasses at all! Removal from the beach where recounting seems likely would also work, so I just don’t see the need for cable ties.

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