In just two incidents along the English Channel, over 4,000 seabirds were washed up on beaches covered in polyisobutene (PIB). Leading wildlife conservation and animal welfare charities are now working with the UK Chamber of Shipping in order to call for a review of the hazard classification status of PIB. This group are also being supported by the wider industry body MaritimeUK.
The cause and culprit of these incidents is currently being investigated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). And, if it comes to light that illegal activity led to the disaster taking place, then the UK Government and the International Maritime Organisation should ensure there is no obstacle to prevent those responsible from being brought to justice.
However, the chances of this happening are low, as no-one has ever been successfully prosecuted for illegally discharging PIB from ships in European waters.
Though PIB isn’t directly toxic to seabirds, it becomes sticky when it comes into contact with seawater. Then, when it coats the plumage of seabirds it restricts their movements and prevents them from feeding.
It is currently legal to discharge PIB in small quantities, so long as you follow certain conditions that are set out by the international MARPOL Convention (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships). However, the impacts of PIB on marine ecosystems, combined with the amount of PIB that is routinely released in legal shipping operations are not well known or understood.
Alec Taylor, marine policy officer for the RSPB, said: “The needless deaths of thousands of seabirds on our beaches has sickened and angered many people. With support from the shipping industry, we’re hoping that the UK Government can push for tighter regulations preventing the discharge of PIB into the sea for good.”
Pollution programme manager at the Marine Conservation Society, Dr Robert Keirle, also spoke on the RSPB’s website saying: “The International Maritime Organisation meeting this week must reclassify PIB as soon as possible under the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Shipping.”
The UK Chamber of Shipping also supports a review of the situation as does the RSPCA, who have had first hand experience of the impacts PIB can have on seabirds.
Adam Grogan is a senior scientist with the RSPCA. He said: “It is fantastic that so many organisations are joining forces to campaign on this issue - it sends a clear message that something has to change and the discharge of this lethal substance must be banned.
“This had been one of the worst cases of marine pollution in recent memory – over 4,000 birds have suffered or died. Our staff have been working round the clock to try and help the casualties which could be saved, but many more washed up along our beaches were already dead.”