'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, October, 2018
70% or more of the earth’s surface is covered by the sea, and out of some 10,000 bird species living on the earth, approximately 330 species are seabirds. They spend most of their time on the sea, returning to the land only for breeding. Maybe because we see many species breed in colonies, we tend to consider they are large in number. But the fact is that they belong to the most endangered bird groups in the world. Surprisingly as many as one third of seabird species are so endangered that the prompt conservation measures are urgently wanted.
Many causes of the decrease in number of seabirds can be supposed; such as predation by alien species like mice, marine contamination, destruction of the breeding sites and hunting. However, the biggest threat to seabirds is bycatch in fisheries, in which species other than fish, including seabirds are caught. Nothing is so vain for them to be killed in bycatch, is it? Every year a tremendous number of seabirds lose their lives by being caught on longline hooks or gillnets. A bird deterrent device, called Tori-pole or Bird Scaring Lines, which was developed by Japanese fishermen, is known as an effective seabird bycatch mitigation method and is used most commonly in the world.
In gillnet fishery, they catch fish with the “net wall” set in the water. The net not fixed with the anchor is called drift net, in which small diving seabirds such as Murres (Uria) and Murrelets (Alcifdae) genera are caught while diving and foraging, and drowned to death. According to the latest research report, 400,000 seabirds are killed in gillnet fishery bycatch each year. NPO organizations can work on fishermen or start awareness campaigns toward companies, but to set up an activity based on the latest means and policies, it must be inevitable to promote industry-government-academia cooperation.
Another serious problem to seabirds is the plastic pollution. 90% of the marine plastic waste in the world flows into the sea from only 10 or so rivers. The amount is 8 million tons in a year, consisting 70% of the marine waste. It has been found that 90% of the seabirds accidentally drink plastic waste. As toxic substances are added to plastic itself, plastic as well as its harmful leaked-out materials seemingly to have leaked out have been found from the bodies of fish, shells and seabirds.
Different from bycatch, marine plastic is an accessible matter that we can be involved with. The seas in the world are all connected with each other, so the plastic carelessly disposed by humans can spread worldwide on a current. While “the sea is the origin of life”, and in a lot of languages of the world it is referred to as “Mother”, I cannot but think that we humans have made terribly irreverent deeds to the sea. As Mother reaches the end of her patience, or gets affected by illness due to her accumulated fatigue, so is the sea screaming now, It is the result of activities by humans who have repeatedly thrown away to the sea toxic substances hard to cleanse and garbage unreturnable to the nature.
The fact that seabirds are decreasing tells us what is happening over the open sea. We should not be blissfully ignorant of this problem, but we should know it well enough and deeply feel distress at it. The sea is the barometer of the earth’s wellness that affects our life. Each one of us living in Japan, a marine nation, should be much more conscious of the sea everyday.
First of all, we should take plastic waste into consideration. Fortunately there has been started an anti-plastic movement throughout the world, so let us not fail to stay current with it. Nay, that is not enough, let us make efforts to become the leader of the movement.