LOS ANGELES — The corruption of a natural process that directs seabirds toward their prey is tricking the animals into eating plastic floating in the ocean.
Five trillion pieces of plastic litter the oceans, weighing a total of 250,000 tons. Meanwhile, more than 200 species of marine life have been found to eat plastic, including birds, fish, turtles and mammals, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis said that plastic sets an “olfactory trap” for seabirds, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.
When seabirds’ prey such as krill eat algae, the plants emit a sulfurous compound called dimethyl sulfide, or DMS, which has a strong smell. The odor gives a chemical signal to seabirds about where they can find food.
However, plastic floating in the ocean accumulates organic matter, including DMS. The plastic then emits the smell of DMS, which entices seabirds to eat it, according to the study.
According to the projections of a recent Australian study, 99 percent of all seabird species will have eaten at least some plastic by 2050, the Los Angeles Times reported.