Mother bird seen feeding cigarette butt to chick at Florida beach in heartbreaking photo

A photographer who captured a heartbreaking moment between a mother and baby bird says she wants to remind others of the detrimental effects human beings can have on the environment.

Karen Mason, who lives in Largo, Fla., snapped a tragic photo that depicts a black skimmer bird with a cigarette butt in its beak trying to feed the toxic trash to its chick at St. Pete's Beach in Pinellas County.

Mason shared it on her Facebook page last Monday, writing, "If you smoke, please don’t leave your butts behind."

In another one of Mason's photos, the chick can be seen carrying the butt around in its mouth as though it were food.

"It's time we cleaned up our beaches and stopped treating them like one giant ash tray [sic]," she wrote. 

Although a large part of the fight against ocean pollution has recently centered around plastic straws, a report released in August 2018 confirmed that cigarette butts are actually the number one man-made contaminant in the world's oceans.

According to data collected by the Ocean Conservancy, cigarette butts are the single most collected item on the world’s beaches. In fact, more than 60 million have been picked up by the group since it began its annual beach cleanup in 1986.

Environmentalists and policymakers alike are now arguing that cigarette filters should be banned entirely. 

“It's pretty clear there is no health benefit from filters," Thomas Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University, told NBC News last year. "They are just a marketing tool. And they make it easier for people to smoke. It's also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can't continue to allow this."

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