Seagulls Fitted with GPS Tracking Units Lead to Illegal Waste Dumping

23 Aug 2016

Seagulls, known for their love of garbage, have made it possible for researchers to located an illegal waste dumping site in Spain.

The high landfill tax rate in Europe has created a black market for dumping waste throughout the continent, said Jim Baird of the Glasgow Caledonian University. The cost  to UK taxpayers of illegal dumping is approximately 300 million pounds, as per a report that was published by the Environmental Services Association Education Trust in 2014.

Though it is known that illegal dumping exists, it can be difficult to pinpoint the perpetrators. They are commonly white-collar criminals who are skilled at creating the façade of a legal company.

In order to locate these illegal dumping grounds, Joan Navarro, along with his colleagues at the Functional Ecology and Evolutionary Center decided to give an unconventional method a try. The group fitted 19 yellow-legged seagulls with solar-powered GPS trackers. These trackers transmitted the location of the birds every five minutes. Since gulls have a love for garbage, the group thought that the birds would be able to help locate these illegal dumping grounds.

The GPS-outfitted gulls ranged over 100 kilometers from their colony. Five of the gulls continuously returned to a location at a landfill that was closed near Huelva, a Spanish city. The researchers assessed the area, and when they did, they found that there was fresh waste – and that it had been illegally dumped at the location.

According to Baird, the approach of using scavenging seagulls as trackers for locating illegal dumping sites is certainly innovative. The GPS trackers that the gulls are fitted with run on solar power. This allowed the trackers to work for years without problem. The frequent location updates that the trackers provide have the potential to let managers to keep tabs on new illegal dump sites that pop up, in real time.

It is hopeful that this method of tracking will continue to be successful, and that it will continue to help put a stop to illegal waste dumping in the UK. It should be noted, however, that gulls are only able to track organic waste; the illegal dumping of inorganic objects is tracked by satellite.

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