Plastic pellets deadly to wildlife washing ashore

Deadly plastic pellets started showing up on Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary beaches earlier this year, raising concerns for the safety of fish and birds, an ocean advocacy group said.

Officials with the nonprofit Save Our Shores are now asking for help in ridding the beaches of the pellets, called nurdles.

The 1- to 5-millimeter pellets first showed up in the Pajaro Dunes area between Santa Cruz and Moss Landing in January and have been showing up since then on most other Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary beaches, Save Our Shores executive director Katherine O’Dea said.

Birds and fish can easily mistake the nurdles for food, O’Dea said. If a fish or bird eats the pellets, the animal’s natural instinct to eat is stifled and it could die of starvation, according to O’Dea.

O’Dea said the most concerning thing is that no one seems to knows where the nurdles are coming from.

She said they are probably coming from cargo that washed off a ship, but no one knows which one. Because the group doesn’t know where the nurdles came from, there’s little they can do.

O’Dea said:

“There’s no direction we can take.”

A dozen shipping containers fell off a Matson container ship in December just outside of the Golden Gate, but the material making up those containers is different than what is being found in the Monterey Bay area, Matson Navigation Co. spokesman Keoni Wagner said.

O’Dea said this is the first time in at least 10 years her group has seen anything like this.

Nurdles come in many colors and can be mistaken for pebbles, grains of sand or fish eggs. O’Dea said people can see them in the sand by looking closely, but to collect them, people will have to sift the sand.

Save Our Shores officials are asking residents to document them, collect them and bring them to Save Our Shores, located at 345 Lake Ave., Suite A in Santa Cruz.