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Marine Plastic Pollution

Biological Indicators of Ocean Plastic Pollution – BiOPs Network

The main goal of the BiOPs Network is to improve the health of the North Pacific Ocean by reducing the amount of plastic pollution entering the marine food webs. To this end, we are using seabirds and fish as biological samplers of litter at sea and quantifying changes in the amount and types of bio-available plastic pollution levels in the major oceanographic regions of the North Pacific.

Our approach is to quantify plastic ingestion at three scales:

legacy species study labLegacy Species
Decadal Trends

Abundant seabird species are accidentally caught in fisheries, providing samples for multiple decade comparisons. Short-tailed Shearwaters and Northern Fulmars taken by Alaska longline fisheries are an example of legacy species.

sentinel species regional bioindicatorsSentinel Species
Regional Bio-indicators

Species with restricted foraging ranges can indicate local levels of plastic pollution. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters nesting in Hawaii are an example of an indicator of pollution in the central Pacific.

kleptoparasitismFood Webs
New Exposure

While plastic ingestion occurs in many marine taxa, the incidence and loads vary geographically and temporally, as predators ingest plastic directly and secondarily from their prey.


Pacific Network – Key Partners


Publications & Videos

Developing metrics for plastic ingestion by Wedge-tailed Shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus)

Lyday S., Robinson E. Dwyer, M. Hester M., Hyrenbach D., Fry M. World Seabird Conference, South Africa (2015)

Plastic Ingestion by Tern Island Seabirds: A community-wide perspective

Hyrenbach D., Rapp D., Youngren S., Hartzell P., Duhr M., Hester M., Fry M. World Seabird Conference South Africa (2015)

Quantification of the plastic loads ingested by Tristam’s Storm-petrel nestlings from Tern Island, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Youngren S., Rapp D., Hartzell P., Duhr M., Hester M., Hyrenbach D. Pacific Seabird Group San Jose (2015)

Prey and Plastic Ingestion of Pacific Northern Fulmars (Fulmarus glacialis rogersii) from Monterey Bay, California

Donnelly E., Harvey J., Nevins H., Hester M., Walker W. Marine Pollution Bulletin Volume 85, Issue 1, Pages 214–224 (2014)

First Evidence of Plastic Ingestion by White-Tailed Tropicbirds from O’ahu, Hawai‘i

Hyrenbach D., Hester M., Johnson J., Lyday S., Bingham S.,& Pawloski J. Marine Ornithology 41: 167–169 (2013)

Winged Ambassadors: Ocean Literacy Through the Eyes of Albatross

Marrero M., Hester M., Hyrenbach D., Michael P., Adams J., Keiper C., Stock J., Collins A., Vanderlip C., Alvarez T., Webb S.  Current: The Journal of Marine Education 28(2):26-30 (2013)

Using the Widely Distributed Seabird, the Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), as an Indicator of Marine Plastic Pollution

Terepocki A., Summer Research. Paper 160. (2012)

A northwestern Pacific metric of pelagic marine debris: plastic ingestion by Black-footed Albatross from Kure Atoll, Hawai‘i

Titmus A., Hester M., Michael P., Adams J., Vanderlip C., Hyrenbach D. Pacific Seabird Group O’ahu, Hawai‘i (2012)

Boluses reveal species-specific and colony-based differences in plastic ingestion by Black-footed Albatross.

Hyrenbach D., Titmus A., Hester M., Vanderlip C., Chang C., Wahl T. Pacific Seabird Group O’ahu, Hawai‘i (2012)

The Ecotoxicology of Marine Debris

Brander S., Fontana R., Mata T., Gravem S., Hettinger A., Bean J., Szoboszlai A., Keiper C., Marrero M. The American Biology Teacher 73(8):474-478. (2011)

Seabirds Indicate Plastic Pollution in the Marine Environment.

David Hyrenbach, Hannah Nevins, Michelle Hester, Carol Keiper, Sophie Webb, James T. Harvey. 2009. In: Marine debris in Alaska : coordinating our efforts. Proceedings of the Marine Debris in Alaska Workshop. Anchorage, Alaska / Michael Williams and Erika Ammann, (Editors), Fairbanks. Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, pp. 57-61. (2008)

Dirty Secrets Episode of Strange Days on Planet Earth Narrated by Edward Norton

Summer 2007, National Geographic, PBS, and Sea Studios presents Link to Video



Classroom activities incorporate current data from BiOPs’ collaborative research.


 Video – Albatross Barfing Plastic, from Lesson 4

Career Training

Wings and Fins Career Training Opportunities in Marine Debris research


  • NOAA Fisheries
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • NOAA Marine Debris Program
  • Private Donors

Other Partners

  • Jim Harvey & BeachCOMBERS Program, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
  • Shannon Fitzgerald, NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center
  • Lisa Ballance, NOAA Fisheries, National Seabird Program
  • Jan van Franeker, Institute for Marine Resources & Ecosystem Studies (IMARES) – North Sea Program
  • Jennifer Stock, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
  • Cynthia Vanderlip, Kure Atoll Conservancy
  • Andy Collins, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
  • Sophie Webb, Oikonos
  • Bill Henry, University of CA Santa Cruz
  • Carol Keiper, Oikonos
  • Kena Fox-Dobbs, University of Puget Sound

Student Collaborations

  • Elizabeth M. Phillips, NOAA Fisheries – Northwest Fisheries Science Center
  • Hawai‘i Pacific University Pelagicos Lab:
    Dan Rapp, Plastic ingestion by Tern Island seabirds: A community-wide perspective. MSMS. Completed: May 2015Sarah Youngren, Plastic ingestion by Tristram’s Storm-petrels. Marine Science MS. Completed: May 2015Elisabeth Robinson, Plastic Ingestion by Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters: Environmental Policies. MA – GLSD.  Completed: Dec. 2014Andrew Titmus, Plastic ingestion in North Pacific Seabirds. Marine Science MS. Completed: Dec. 2010Frances Nilsen, Seabird susceptibility to organochlorinated pollutants. Marine Science MS. Completed: Dec. 2010Chih-Wei Chang, Plastic ingestion and diet of North Pacific albatrosses. Undergraduate. Completed: May 2010

    Eve Scanlan, Plastic ingestion of petrels from Tern Island. Undergraduate. Completed: Jan. 2012

    John Johnson, Plastic ingestion by albatross chicks from Tern Island. Undergraduate. Completed: Dec. 2012

    Travis Wahl, Comparing Laysan albatross boluses from multiple colonies. Undergraduate. Completed: May 2013

    Matt Dwyer, Plastic ingestion by adult Wedge-tailed Shearwaters from O’ahu. Undergraduate. Ongoing.