Plastic Garbage for the Albatross' Dinner

1255623325 albatross

Albatross who ate ocean plastic

We have virtually instant access these days to an almost unimaginable wealth of information. Just type a search into Google or your engine of choice, and the world is at your fingertips, almost literally. But it comes at a price. For with all the stuff we want to see, comes a bunch we don’t. Offering a visceral reminder that there’s a lot in this world we wish were not. But awful or not, we do need to know about if there is any hope for change.

Until yesterday, I had never heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch aka Pacific Trash Vortex that is the North Pacific Gyre, one of five in the world. Yet more plastic. Filmmaker and environmental educator Dave Chameides describes the North Pacific Gyre as “a vortex of currents swirling inwards that lies between California and Japan. Like a toilet bowl that never flushes, it’s filled with plastic debris from man made items. So much so that from the first time it was studied until now, it has grown from the size of the state of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States!”

Oceanic Gyres

5 Ocean Gyres

It’s not generally visible from a distance because most pieces are small and/or partially broken down, just the right size to eat. But the mass of the plastic debris in some areas is more than 6 times that of plankton. Hard to believe. Photographer Chris Jordan documented some of the effects of all this plastic garbage in September 2009 with Midway – Message from the Gyre. Via this 6 minute slideshow below, he shows us an awful lot of awful images, somehow made worse by their sheer number.

“These photographs of albatross chicks were made in September 2009 on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

“To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.”

Hard to fathom these birds are thousands of miles away from where this garbage originated. A new take on the Butterfly Effect, now we have the Albatross Effect. Ironic given we’ve had the allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) of “an albatross around the neck” for “an encumbrance, or a wearisome burden.” And now a very wearisome burden is around all our necks. And maybe another canary in the mine too.

But what to do? How about tomorrow we explore some of those possibilities? For with the bad news let’s find some good news too, and hope for change.

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