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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 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 study the impact of plastic pollution and quantify ingestion by marine wildlife 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, Northern Fulmars, and Albatrosses taken by 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 – tracking studies show they forage for their chicks within 200km of the islands.

Food 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. Studying tunas and forage fish highlights the human connection to clean oceans.

Pacific Network – Key Partners

Learn About Plastic Ingestion

Oikonos authored Peer-Reviewed Publications & Reports:

Assessment of plastic ingestion by pole-caught pelagic predatory fish from O’ahu, Hawaii.

Hyrenbach, D.K., McGinnis, Z. Page, K., Rapp, D., Horgan, D.F., Lynch, J. 2020. Aquatic Conservation Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. 2020:1-12.

Direct In Vivo Evidence for Accumulation of Plastic Derived Chemicals in Seabird Tissue.

Tanaka, Kosuke and Watanuki, Yutaka and takada, Hideshige and Ishizuka, Mayumi and Yamashita, Rei and Kazama, Mami and Hiki, Nagako and Mizukawa, Kaoruko and Mizukawa, Hazuki and Hyrenbach, David and Hester, Michelle and Ikenaka, Yoshinori and Nakayama, Shouta M. M. 2019. Direct In Vivo Evidence for Accumulation of Plastic Derived Chemicals in Seabird Tissue. Current Biology 30: 1-6. 

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 distributions

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.colony

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.

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)

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)


Classroom activities incorporate current data from BIOPs’ collaborative research.


 Video – Albatross Barfing Plastic, from Lesson 4


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

Other Partners

  • Myra Finkelstein, University of CA Santa Cruz
  • Jim Harvey & BeachCOMBERS Program, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
  • Shannon Fitzgerald, NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center
  • Jenn Lynch, NIST, Center for Marine Debris
  • 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

Student Collaborations

Hawai‘i Pacific University Pelagicos Lab:

  • Alonda Islas, Skipjack tuna diet and plastic ingestion relationships. MSMS. Ongoing 2021
  • Sarah Hutchinson, Wedge-tailed Shearwater oceanographic patterns in plastic pollution. MSMS. Ongoing 2021
  • Lauren Chamberlin, Bonin Petrel plastic ingestion, Midway Atoll. MSMS. Completed: 2019
  • Sarah Youngren, Plastic ingestion by Tristram’s Storm-petrels. MSMS. Completed: 2015.
  • Dan Rapp, Plastic ingestion by Tern Island seabirds: A community-wide perspective. MSMS. Completed: 2015.
  • Elisabeth Robinson, Plastic Ingestion by Wedge-Tailed Shearwaters: Environmental Policies. MA – GLSD.  Completed: 2014
  • Andrew Titmus, Plastic ingestion in North Pacific Seabirds. MSMS. Completed: 2010.
  • Frances Nilsen, Seabird susceptibility to organochlorinated pollutants. MSMS. Completed: 2010.
  • Chih-Wei Chang, Plastic ingestion and diet of North Pacific albatrosses. Undergraduate. Completed: 2010.
  • Eve Scanlan, Plastic ingestion of petrels from Tern Island. Undergraduate. Completed: 2012.
  • John Johnson, Plastic ingestion by albatross chicks from Tern Island. Undergraduate. Completed: 2012
  • Travis Wahl, Comparing Laysan albatross boluses from multiple colonies. Undergraduate. Completed: 2013
  • Matt Dwyer, Plastic ingestion by adult Wedge-tailed Shearwaters from O’ahu. Undergraduate. Completed 2010