Image Image Image Image Image

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 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 major oceanographic regions of the Pacific, focusing on the North Pacific and Chile.

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

Learn About Plastic Ingestion

Peer-Reviewed Publications & Reports:

Global Monitoring of Persistent Organic Pollutions (POPs) Using Seabird Preen Gland Oil.

Yamashita, R., Takata, H., Nakazawa, A., Takahasi, A., Yamamoto, T., Watanabe, Y., Kokubun, N., Sato, K., Wanless, S., Daunt, F., Hyrenbach, D., Hester, M., Deguchi, T., Nishizawa, B., Shoji, A., Watanuki, Y. 2018. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2019.00094

Plastic ingestion by Tristram’s Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma tristrami) chicks from French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Youngren, S.M., Rapp, D.C., Hyrenbach, K.D. 2018. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 128: 369–378. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.01.053

First Quantification of Plastic Ingestion by Short-Tailed Albatross Phoebastria Albatrus

Donnelly-Greenan, E., Hyrenbach, D., Beck, J., Fitzgerald, S., Nevins, H., & Hester, M. 2018. Marine Ornithology, 46: 79–84.

Plastic ingestion by Black-footed Albatross Phoebastria nigripes from Kure Atoll, Hawai`i: Linking chick diet remains and parental at-sea foraging distributionscolony

Hyrenbach, K.D., Hester, M.M., Adams, J., Titmus, A.J., Michael, P., Wahl, T., Chang, C., Marie, A., Vanderlip, C. 2017. Marine Ornithology, 45: 225-236.

Community-wide patterns of plastic ingestion in seabirds breeding at French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Rapp, D.C, Youngren, S.M., Hartzell, P., Hyrenbach, K.D. 2017. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 123: 269-278. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.08.047.

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)

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. 2014. Marine Pollution Bulletin 85: 214-244. doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2014.05.046

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. 2013. Marine Ornithology 41: 167–169

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.  2013. Current: The Journal of Marine Education 28(2):26-30

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

Terepocki A., Summer Research. Paper 160. (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. 2011. The American Biology Teacher 73(8):474-478.

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)

Recent Presentations:

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

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

Plastic Ingestion by Tern Island Seabirds: A Community-Wide Perspective

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


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
  • 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
  • CONAF, Chile
  • Sophie Webb, Oikonos
  • Bill Henry, University of CA Santa Cruz
  • Carol Keiper, Oikonos
  • Kena Fox-Dobbs, University of Puget Sound

Student Collaborations

Hawai‘i Pacific University Pelagicos Lab:

  • Sarah Youngren, Plastic ingestion by Tristram’s Storm-petrels. MSMS. Completed: May 2015.
  • Dan Rapp, Plastic ingestion by Tern Island seabirds: A community-wide perspective. MSMS. Completed: May 2015.
  • Elisabeth Robinson, Plastic Ingestion by Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters: Environmental Policies. MA – GLSD.  Completed: Dec. 2014
  • Andrew Titmus, Plastic ingestion in North Pacific Seabirds. MSMS. Completed: Dec. 2010.
  • Frances Nilsen, Seabird susceptibility to organochlorinated pollutants. MSMS. Completed: Dec. 2010.
  • Chih-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.