Seal pups threatened by ‘nurdles’ used to make plastic items

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 8 February 2019

Some of the UK’s grey seal colony hotspots are threatened by tiny pellets of plastic known as “nurdles”.

Grey Seal pup
© Graeme Cresswell

It’s vital that we collect the evidence to show just how massive a problem it is around the UK and where certain ‘hotspots’ are found

Dr Laura Foster,
MCS Head of Clean Seas

Nurdles are a pre-production item that are melted together to create new plastic products. However, they can be spilt or discarded into the environment and it’s estimated 53 billion of them end up in our oceans each year.

More than 3,000 seal pups were born at Blakeney National Nature Reserve, in Norfolk, this winter, and a record 2,000 were born at nearby Horsey. Researchers from Fauna and Flora International (FFI), spent two days in January searching five beaches in Norfolk, and found hundreds of nurdles littering the ground near some of the young mammals’ favourite spots.

Seals are known to ingest microplastics, most likely by eating prey that has eaten the tiny plastic bits.

The news comes as the public are being invited to take part in The Great Global Nurdle Hunt, which starts today and runs until February 17th. The idea is to collect essential data on pellet pollution worldwide and put pressure on the global plastic industry to ensure pellets are handled responsibly throughout the supply chain.

MCS has been a partner in The Great Nurdle Hunt which is organised by environmental charity Fidra. Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas, says: “We’re encouraging all our volunteer beach cleaners to take part in the nurdle hunt. It’s vital that we collect the evidence to show just how massive a problem it is around the UK and where certain ‘hotspots’ are found.”

During last year’s 279 sites in the UK were searched, with nurdles found on almost three-quarters of them (73%). On one cove in Tregantle, Cornwall, more than 400,000 plastic pellets were discovered.

Dilyana Mihaylova, marine plastics projects manager at FFI, said: “All companies that make, use and transport nurdles must take action to stop these microplastics polluting Britain’s beaches and damaging critical habitats for our iconic seal colonies.

“It is clear that nurdle pollution continues to be a chronic problem despite some voluntary efforts to prevent it.

“The plastics industry needs to implement robust measures across its entire supply chain to stop nurdle pollution.”

Actions you can take

  1. Help us stop the plastic tide
  2. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2018

Did you know?…

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is thought to be 6 times the size of the UK