Why is seabird poop good for the environment?

Why is seabird poop good for the environment?

The poop of seabirds is important for the environment, writes Jason Bittel for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Jason Bittel writes that seabird droppings – from Penguins and especially flying seabirds – help to fertilize plants, and whole colonies of seabirds depositing their poop can have a positive affect on coral reefs and climate. 

Seabird poop goes onto land and in the ocean. On land, it is good fertilizer for plants. It is especially good for coastal plants, such as lichen and moss. In the ocean, it is good for fish communities. 

A July 2018 study by researchers at the Lancaster Environment Centre at the Lancaster University in the United Kingdom and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, as well as other research centres in the UK, Australia, Denmark, and Canada, found that the presence of seabirds on islands can increase the populations of fish communities around the coral reefs by 48 percent. 

The poop of Penguins, Gulls, Terns, and other seabirds, has nutrients that are spread over large areas on Earth, including many areas with few humans – the polar regions, tropics, and remote islands. The Petrel, for example, migrates inland and poops in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Emperor Penguins migrate up to 160 kilometres (100 miles) inland into Antarctica. 

Jason Bittel writes about a 2016 Canadian study at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto. Researchers found that ammonia in seabird droppings enters the atmosphere and combines with water vapour and sulphuric acid to form particles that help to create low-lying clouds. These cloud formations assist in cooling the Arctic waters, helping to reduce global warming. 

He concludes that humans need Penguin poop – and especially flying seabird poop – to help the environment in many ways.  

Full article in the NRDC by Jason Bittel: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/overlooked-importance-penguin-poop-fulmar-feces-and-gull-guano

Graham, N.A.J., Wilson, S.K., Carr, P. et al. Seabirds enhance coral reef productivity and functioning in the absence of invasive rats. Nature 559, 250–253 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0202-3

Croft, B., Wentworth, G., Martin, R. et al. Contribution of Arctic seabird-colony ammonia to atmospheric particles and cloud-albedo radiative effect. Nat Commun 7, 13444 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms13444

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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