Midway atoll is a beautiful patch of sand thousands of miles away from anything in the Pacific Ocean. After its life as a US military base was finished, it came under the protection of a Marine Sanctuary, one which encompasses most of the islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, making it one of the largest such protected areas in the world. It is home to around two million albatross, or it was in the spring of 2008 when the crew and trainees of the Pacific Grace stopped there on our north Pacific crossing.
That protection, however, does not and cannot extend past the shores of the islands and once the albatross have left the island where they reign supreme, they are in danger. It seems that albatross are feeding in what has come to be known The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of the Pacific about twice the size of Texas completely covered in plastic trash. Some of it has been dumped off of ships, some is probably cargo that has come loose in storms, still more is blown out to sea from coastal areas on both sides of the Pacific.
We saw hints of this on Midway last year. The photo above shows the beach and a pile of garbage. When individuals walk the beaches on Midway, they collect some of the larger pieces and add them too these piles all along the beach. Some of it is probably washed up on shore. The rest of it comes from the albatross who, thinking it is food, have unwittingly swallowed it and brought it back to land.
There they feed it to their young and, as Chris Jordan’s photos show (also, see the NY Times Book Review, h/t to Jen who sent me this article and started me off on this rant), it has devastating effects.
The following videos are [first] a short doc on the plastic and albatross on Midway (I recognize the opening scenes from our visit there, they are the old military houses) and [second] Chris’ photos set to music.
Damning? Yes. Enough to make us all reconsider our plastic consumption? I sure hope so.