Tuesday, October 19, 2021


“Seabirds and Plastic, a Deadly Combination” was the second presentation in the Breakfast with the Birds series hosted by Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center. It featured Adam DiNuovo of Audubon, Florida, (AF), who has 20 years’ experience working with shorebirds and seabirds on the East, West and Gulf coasts. For the last four years, Adam has been a biologist for AF and also its Collier Shorebird Monitoring and Stewardship Program Manager.

According to Brad Cornell of Audubon of the Western Everglades, “Marco Island has one of the biggest nesting colonies of least terns and black skimmers in Florida.” Currently, at the black skimmer colony at the tip of Sand Dollar Island, it is “chick-a-palooza” with many sets of two and three chicks, according to Jean Hall. She also observed that there is a good steady fish delivery going on.

In his presentation, Adam’s first slide was an idyllic photo of a black skimmer feeding a freshly hatched downy chick. He warned the audience that the rest of the presentation would take on a darker side and “as cute as this photo is, the only thing that does NOT contain plastic is maybe the outside of that fish.”

Black skimmers nest each summer on gulf beaches, much like Marco Island’s Sand Dollar Island. A Largo resident and nature lover, Karen Mason captured the photo of a black skimmer with a cigarette butt in its beak, feeding it to its fluffy newborn chick. It mistook the cigarette butt for a white minnow that it skimmed off the shallow part of the surf.

Photo by Beth Reynolds | Black skimmer with a plastic fork in its beak. This could end up in a seabird’s stomach – the unintended consequence of a careless beachgoer!

So, how pervasive a threat is plastic to seabirds?

  • In 1960, 5% of seabirds contained plastic.
  • In 1986, 85% of seabirds contained plastic.
  • In 2019, 95% of seabirds contain plastic.
  • Plastic kills one million birds and fish every year.
  • In 2050 there will more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Adam showed photo after photo of dead seabirds, their stomachs filled with everyday plastic items, such as plastic straws, stirrers, bottles, caps, cigarette lighters, butts, six pack ring holders, and the list goes on. Over time, these plastic items disintegrate into fragments called microplastic or plastic pellets called “nurdles.” These are harmful when ingested.

According to Renee Wilson, Communications Associate for Audubon, Florida and one of lecture attendees, “Plastic debris, whether bottle caps, soda containers, food wrappers, or plastic grocery bags, kills marine animals and the birds that feed. We can all help protect them by limiting plastic product consumption and by securing trash and packing it out when visiting the beach by boat or by car.”

How Can You Help?

1. Volunteer for a beach clean-up;

2. Organize monthly neighborhood clean-ups near waterways;

3. Re-think your plastic footprint;

4. Reduce consumption of single-use plastic products;

5. Re-use and recycle;

6. Educate others about the dangers of marine debris;

7. Talk to your elected officials to help create incentives for business who switch to biodegradable item replacing plastic utensils, plastic straws and take out containers.


July 6th at 8 AM: Tigertail Beach Clean-Up

July 23rd at 9:30 AM: Rookery Bay Lecture Series,
“Stewardship and Citizen Science –
Success Stories and How You Can Make a Difference.”


Benzo (found in coal tar), arsenic (a pesticide), acetone (think nail polish remover), lead, formaldehyde (used by embalmers to preserve dead bodies), (flammable component in gasoline), ammonia, benzene (a pesticide), toluene (found in paint thinner).

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