Bird poop worth $470 million is at risk — could hold the key to saving seabirds across the world

Bird poop worth $470 million is at risk — could hold the key to saving seabirds across the world
Seagull spotted in MumbaiBCCL
  • Researchers estimate that bird poop from seabirds is a $470 million industry in hopes of inspiring conservation.
  • Including the contribution of bird poop, or guano, to coral reefs, its value would skyrocket to over $1 billion.
  • Most of this bird poop comes from fast-declining populations of seabirds like the penguins in the Antarctic.
  • Check out the latest news and updates on Business Insider.
You could classify bird poop as one of the unfortunate incidents that drops on your head at the most inopportune of moments or you could look at it like a $470 million opportunity.

Bird poop, also called guano, may be off-putting to the common man, but it’s also a source of fertilizer available at zero cost. Scientists are hoping that quantifying the monetary benefits of bird poop could be the key to saving thousands of seabirds across the planet.

Bird poop worth $470 million is at risk — could hold the key to saving seabirds across the world
Seagulls spotted off the coast of MumbaiBCCL

“I can go to an island, collect the guano, and sell it at market price as fertilizer,” said Marcus V Cianciaruso, one of the co-authors of the study published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

It’s about more than just the money
Scientists estimate the value of guano to be $473.83 million per year but this doesn’t restrict itself to the commercial use of bird poop.

In instances where a variety of guano isn’t being sold as fertilizer, it is still being used to add nutrients to the ecosystem that allow other resources to thrive. In order to calculate the benefits of non-commercial guano, the researchers estimated the value of the nitrogen and phosphorus deposited each year and compared it to how much it would take to replace that contribution with inorganic substitutes.

Even then, not all guano can be quantified. For instance, the presence of guano can boost coral reef fish biomass by up to 48%. "According to the United Nations and the Australian government, the annual economic returns of commercial fisheries on coral reefs is over $6 billion. So, 10% of this value is around $600 million per year," said Daniel Plazas-Jiménez, the other co-author of the study.

If that is taken into account, the value of bird poop from seabirds exceeds $1 billion overall.

Most of bird poop’s value comes from endangered species
In the Antarctic, half of the nitrogen and phosphorus deposits come from penguins — flightless birds with over 60% a part of fast-declining populations. Even after new colonies were discovered on the isolated continent, scientists estimate that they will soon be wiped out as climate change eats away at the sea ice.

“These contributions will decrease in the future if no conservation activity is taken," said Plazas-Jiménez.

Bird poop is only one way to calculate the monetary value of conserving seabirds. They also serve as valuable attractions for tourist locations and in some areas, fishermen follow them in order to find fish to earn their livelihood.

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