Ingestion of anthropogenic debris by migratory barnacle geese Branta leucopsis on a remote north-eastern Atlantic island

Neil E. Coughlan*, Susan Doyle, Connie Baker-Arney, Rose M. Griffith, Linda Lyne, Hannah Williams, Thomas C. Kelly, Barry J. McMahon, Jaimie T.A. Dick, Eoghan M. Cunningham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Although seabirds are frequently used as sentinel species for anthropogenic pollution, the extent and impacts of synthetic debris ingestion remains poorly studied for many water bird species. Here, we assess ingestion of synthetic particles (≥0.5 mm) by barnacle geese, Branta leucopsis, wintering on a remote island. Faecal samples were collected over a period of four wintering seasons. In total, 71 individual samples were assessed, with 79% of samples displaying at least one debris particle (maximum lengths 0.5–5 mm) from anthropogenic sources. The recovered synthetic debris were identified as micro-fibres (n = 166) and micro-fragments (n = 165). The number of synthetic particles detected per sample was generally low at 4.7 ± 0.9, 43 (mean ± SE, maximum): micro-fibres 2.3 ± 0.3, 10; micro-fragments 2.3 ± 0.8, 40. Particle numbers detected per gram of faecal sample differed amongst wintering seasons. Our results suggest that non-marine water birds can frequently ingest low quantities of synthetic particles in remote coastal habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111588
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Early online date24 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge support from the G. & M. Williams Research Fund , Queen's Marin Laboratory , and the Irish Research Council . We gratefully thank Ryan Johnston and Craig Holmes for assisting this study, and Patrick Manley and Brian Burke for assistance collecting samples. We also gratefully acknowledge support for Dr Katherine Booth-Jones and the British Trust for Ornithology. In particular, we thank Emma Healey and Allen Whitaker for technical support, and Ricky Whelan, Marcel Jansen and Alicia Mateos-Cárdenas for encouraging discussions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Anthropocene
  • Micro-fibre
  • Micro-fragment
  • Plastic pollution
  • Waterfowl
  • Wetland bird

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Pollution


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