The Problem of Plastics in the Lower Columbia Region

Guest writer: Lindsey Nicolas
Development and Communications Coordinator, Wildlife Center of the North Coast

Plastics of all shapes and sizes are a major problem out on the landscape. Both on land and in water, the contamination is everywhere, and it keeps growing. From large, obvious plastics like shopping bags and containers, to micro-plastics buried in the sand or floating in the ocean, our creation of plastic trash affects the entire ecosystem. So often we see birds like crows using plastic trash for nesting material, or gulls digging through trash looking for food scraps. There are many other creatures interacting with plastics that people may not think about.

Here at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, we see a variety of injuries and deaths due to plastic entanglement and ingestion each year. Most of the animals we treat here are birds, but we have received mammals affected by plastics as well. Just last year, we received a sweet little bat, who was found struggling in a tree and completely entangled in fishing line with multiple wounds from a three-pronged hook. We were able to free the bat, but unfortunately, it didn’t survive due to the severity of its injuries.

On a fairly regular basis, we see “obvious cases”: gulls with fishing line, or other bits of plastic waste, wrapped around their legs, wings, or mouths. Luckily, when found in time, many of these birds can be rescued and successfully rehabilitated after removing said plastics. Some, however, lose limbs or feet, break bones, or even lose a tongue when entangled for prolonged periods, and do not survive. Much less obvious cases are the pelagic birds, such as the Northern Fulmar, who wash up onto the beach starving because they’ve ingested plastics, and can no longer process enough food to sustain themselves. The birds mistake small bits of plastic for food in the water. After the bird passes, we find a digestive system full of plastic, and a completely destroyed body. It’s absolutely heartbreaking!

In regards to anything specific we’re doing concerning the issue: we care for each patient quickly and carefully to free them from plastic entanglement, and then treat their injuries as best we can, so they can be released back into the wild. We are also trying to educate our community, both locally and on social media, about the problem that plastic pollution causes, and ways for them to help reduce the use and abuse of plastics in their lives.  You can learn more and support the work of the Wildlife Center here: http://www.coastwildlife.org.