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RSPB calls for action to prevent substance identified in seabird tragedy causing further deaths

Last modified: 07 February 2013

'Bridled' guillemot portrait


Image: Graham Catley

The RSPB has today called for tighter international regulations to prevent a substance implicated in the deaths of thousands of seabirds from being released into our seas. 

The substance, polyisobutene (PIB), was yesterday identified by scientists at the University of Plymouth from samples taken from seabirds washed up along the south-west coast of England, which fits with analysis done separately by the Environment Agency. 

PIB is believed to have been responsible for over 4,000 seabird deaths in at least four incidents around European coasts in recent years, yet is currently given one of the lowest hazard classifications under ?The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.  

The RSPB has pointed to evidence that raises questions about the validity of this classification, as the effects of the chemical are only tested under laboratory conditions which do not take into account harmful effects on seabirds and the marine environment when it mixes with seawater.  

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 seawater that this chemical can become lethal for seabirds, covering them in a sticky goo, and preventing them from flying, feeding and ultimately surviving.' 

The RSPB is today seeking public support to call on the International Maritime Organisation to urgently review the hazard classification of PIB, and implement regulations that prevent any further tragic and wholly avoidable incidents like the one just witnessed. 

How you can help

Current proposals to create marine protected areas in the waters of each country offer almost no protection for seabirds. With the support of people like you, we can continue to fight for better protection for our seas.