All those auks killed off the south coast of England over the last week or so have been killed by polyisobutene (or PIB) according to analyses done by scientists at the University of Plymouth and confirmed by the Environment Agency, says the RSPB.
PIB is currently given one of the lowest hazard classifications under MARPOL [category Z, substances presenting a minor hazard to either marine resources or human health and therefore justifying less stringent restrictions on the quality and quantity of discharge into the marine environment].
The RSPB believes the current classification does not take proper account of the impact on marine wildlife when PIB mixes with sea water – the effects of PIB are only tested under laboratory conditions which do not take into account harmful changes to seabirds and the marine environment when mixed with sea water. As a result, PIB can still legally be dumped into the sea when vessels wash out their tanks.
Alec Taylor, the RSPB’s Marine Policy Officer, said: “Given that this substance is used for making chewing gum, adhesive tape and cosmetics, millions of people safely come into contact with it every day. However, it’s when it mixes with sea water that this chemical can become lethal for seabirds, covering them in a sticky goo, and preventing them from flying, feeding and ultimately surviving.”
So it seems that these seabird deaths are possibly caused by perfectly legal actions – a change in regulations needed to stop this happening again?