NZ oceans world's worst for birds eating plastic

New Zealand's oceans are the most dangerous in the world for seabirds eating plastic waste, according to research presented to Parliament's Environment Committee.

Forest & Bird says it shows the risk to seabirds from plastic rubbish is worse in the seas around our country than anywhere else in the world.

"Rubbish that ends up in our seas has a far worse effect on seabird species than anywhere else in the world," says spokesperson Karen Baird.

"Even though we don't have the most plastic pollution, we are unique in the world in having so many seabirds species in New Zealand. We also have the most threatened seabird species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world."

It's not just birds who are threatened by plastic pollution - one out of every three turtles recovered in New Zealand has died or become ill from eating plastic.

Ms Baird says it's only recently that the abundance of plastic waste in our seas has become a dangerous problem for native wildlife.

"Until recently, the unfussy eating habits of birds like shearwaters and albatross were an evolutionary advantage. But now, when they are at sea looking for food for their chicks, they can't distinguish between floating plastic and fish."

Australian shearwaters have been badly affected by ocean pollution, with some starving to death because there is no room for food in their plastic-filled stomachs.

Forest & Bird are warning that New Zealand's 10 native shearwater species could meet the same fate if things don't change.

"Around the world, plastic rubbish is being fed to young birds by their parents, and it's killing them," says Ms Baird.

We're known as the 'seabird capital of the world' because there are 36 species that breed solely on New Zealand islands. The country is also a 'sometimes home' to one third of all seabird species in the world.

Ms Baird says plastic - which makes up 78 percent of rubbish on our beaches - presents a major risk to New Zealand's economy.

"Floating plastic can also carry pest species from other parts of the world, so the risk is not just environmental but economic as well. The Ministry of Primary Industries should be very concerned that plastic pollution has the potential to harm our primary industries."

Forest & Bird urges all New Zealanders, from everyday citizens to businesses to Government policy makers, to take part in worldwide environmental effort Plastic-Free July.