Seabirds Are Dumping Pollution-Laden Poop Back on Land


The full article by Joshua Rapp Learn was originally written for the Smithsonian Magazine

Mark Mallory was in a helicopter flying over the bleak Arctic tundra when he was struck by the view of Cape Vera on Devon Island. He had been flying over blue water and brown landscapes in Nunavut for some time, so the bright orange 1,000-foot cliffs towering over green ponds were a sight for sore eyes

“The green and orange contrast when you’re coming in from the air is unbelievably beautiful,” says the Canada research chair and associate biology professor at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Mallory was interested in studying northern fulmars, seabirds related to petrels that nest in the tens of thousands on the cliffs of this uninhabited island.

The lichen on the cliffs and the moss in the small freshwater pools underneath them got him thinking about what the birds were doing to the island.

“You get relatively lush conditions. It’s like an oasis,” he says. That’s because the birds are enriching the land with their poop, which is filled with nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorous. “That’s a natural process that happens anywhere in the world where you’ve got a concentration of seabirds.”

Read more via the Smithsonian Magazine

Seabirds Are Dumping Pollution-Laden Poop Back on Land