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Cara J

Balloons play an outsize role in seabird deaths

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Parents may want to think twice before allowing their children to let balloons fly off into the atmosphere. When seemingly harmless latex balloons end up in the ocean, according to a new study, they become unusually deadly for seabirds. “They are attractive and they are disproportionately deadly if those balloons are eaten,” said Lauren Roman, the lead author of the study published recently in Nature Scientific Reports. Roman is a postdoctoral researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, an Australian government agency. It’s nothing new that ingesting too much plastic and other human marine debris can kill seabirds. By blocking up their gastrointestinal systems, it can cause infections and even starvation. But Roman and her co-authors wanted to see whether they could narrow down the causes of death. They examined the insides of more than 1,700 dead birds from 51 different species that they and other organizations collected. They divided the carcasses into those that clearly died due to ingesting debris, those that died from non-debris causes such as fisheries bycatch and those whose death was undetermined. A grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma) is found dead with balloon fragments inside its body. ©Lauren Roman They found that while birds were [...]

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