Volunteers find dead birds with plastic-filled stomachs on Danish beaches

Concerns have been raised about pollution in seas near Denmark, with 95 percent of one species of seabird collected from beaches in West Jutland found to have plastic in their stomachs.

Volunteers find dead birds with plastic-filled stomachs on Danish beaches
Northern or Arctic fulmars off Iceland. File photo: Jan Jørgensen / Ritzau Scanpix

The northern or Arctic fulmar, a type of petrel which resembles a seagull, is common on the western coast of Jutland as well as around Skagen and the northern part of the Kattegat sea.

A Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) project has seen a team of three volunteers recently collect the birds from beaches, and they were subsequently examined to reveal the contents of their stomachs.

“It turns out that over 95 percent of the northern fulmars that we find on Danish beaches have plastic inside them,” said John Pedersen, coordinator for the project.

The amount of plastic in the animals’ stomachs is an accurate indicator of the extent to which the material is polluting seas, according to Pedersen.

That is because northern fulmars look for food on the surface of the ocean, where plastic is also floating.

“They fish for krill, larvae and juvenile fish. And if there’s a little piece of plastic, they swallow it,” the EPA project coordinator said.

Once the animal’s stomach is filled with plastic, there is no longer space to take in nutrition.

“It gives a feeling of being full, but there’s no nutrition in it. So they starve and die,” Pedersen said.

Plastic types found by the volunteers include pieces of packaging and shopping bags.

“Whether this comes from fishermen, freighter ships or cruise ships, I daren’t say,” Pedersen said.

READ ALSO: Denmark throws away too much plastic, recycling could save millions: report

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‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.