Picture a remote, uninhabited island sitting just off the coast of Cornwall. Now picture it littered with thousands of elastic bands, and ask yourself the question: how?
Experts initially couldn’t figure it out, considering Mullion Island is so remote that a permit is required to visit it.
So what was the explanation? Ghosts? A unique strain of fish obsessed with bringing multicoloured elastic bands ashore? Or an altogether more realistic prospect?
Obviously it was the latter, although the reality wasn’t too far away from the second option – as National Trust rangers soon realised seabirds were behind the mysterious elastic bands.
To be more specific, the phenomenon is thought to be caused by great black-backed and herring gulls, who have been mistaking the bands for food while feeding in agricultural fields close to the island.
After ingesting the elastic bands, the birds then returned to Mullion Island to deposit them at roosting sites on the island, according to a press release from the National Trust.
Experts have suggested that the gulls might have mistaken the bands for worms, which ultimately resulted in them being dropped onto the island in regurgitated pellets.
As per the press release, ‘small bundles of green fishing net and twine were also discovered among the undigested food, likely mistaken by the gulls for tasty morsels floating on the surface of the sea’.
Rachel Holder, Area Ranger for the National Trust, said:
Ingested plastic and rubber is another factor in a long list of challenges which our gulls and other seabirds must contend with just to survive.
Despite being noisy and boisterous and seemingly common, gulls are on the decline. They’re already struggling with changes to fish populations and disturbance to nesting sites – and eating elastic bands and fishing waste does nothing to ease their plight.
Places like Mullion Island should be sanctuaries for our seabirds, so it’s distressing to see them become victims of human activity.
The island, located just off the Lizard Peninsula in southern Cornwall and cared for by the National Trust, provides a sanctuary for nesting seabirds.
However, the Trust is now calling on businesses to consider how they dispose of plastic, latex and other materials that could cause harm to wildlife as the effects of human influence on the island are becoming increasingly evident – despite public access to the isolated site being forbidden.
One gull was found to have died after becoming caught in a 10cm fishing hook, with the Head of Environmental Practices at the National Trust, Lizzy Carlyle, saying it’s ‘up to all of us to take responsibility for how we use and dispose of these items’.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).