Nearly two thirds of water in some of Scotland’s most important feeding grounds for basking sharks, whales, dolphins and seabirds has been found to contain tiny chunks of plastic pollution.
A new report from environmental group Greenpeace shows 63 per cent of samples tested contained at least one fragment of plastic, while some had more than 10 pieces.
The results come from a two-month research voyage around the Scottish coast last year, when scientists collected water samples in key foraging areas from Bass Rock in the south-east to the remote Shiant Isles in the north-west.
Plastic pollution is a growing problem, with more than eight million tonnes entering oceans around the world every year.
The waste is known to be harmful, often fatal, to marine creatures and birds.
Estimates suggest it kills more than one million seabirds, 100,000 turtles and marine mammals and countless fish and shellfish annually.
Larger items such as ropes, bottles and carrier bags pose a risk of entanglement and suffocation. Very small bits, known as microplastics, can be ingested, causing eventual starvation or even poisoning from chemicals they absorb from seawater.
During the two-month survey, scientists were shocked to see seabirds building nests out of plastic debris and attempting to feed litter to chicks.
Now the results of analysis by scientists at the University of Exeter offer an insight into the scale of microplastic contamination of Scotland’s marine environment.
Tisha Brown, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “The key finding here is that microplastics are present in some of Scotland’s most remote and unspoilt waters.
“Threatened seabirds and other wildlife are already exposed to them, along with the fish stocks we eat, and there is currently no coherent process or even plan to stop this problem from getting worse.”
The group is calling for urgent action to stop plastic litter from ending up in seas.