On Remote Islands, Seabirds Are Poisoned By Plastic
“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau
You may hear about the ominous “plastic in the ocean” all the time. We hear that it threatens marine animals and kills birds. We know it’s there but I think many people don’t have a personal connection with it. You don’t see it so it’s not as easy to care about. You may have also heard about the Pacific garbage patch, a nebulous soup of plastic particles that takes up an unknown but very large area within the pacific ocean that could be as large as or larger than the state of Texas.
But you may not have heard about Midway Atoll, a very remote group of islands north of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. Midway is a pretty good description for it – it’s halfway between North America and Asia. It’s about as far away as you can get from either continent.
It’s on these remote Islands that Laysan Albatrosses like to nest. These are pretty cool birds with a wingspan of over 6 feet and they can glide for years without ever touching down on land. They often stay with one mate for their entire life, which can be over a hundred years.
Unfortunately these birds that nest on one of the most remote island chains in the world are dying from eating plastic that they found in the ocean. They normally pick up squid and other sea creatures they find near the surface of the water but they unfortunately can’t distinguish between what they can eat and what they cannot. The albatross has been around for millions of years and never had to make this distinction. Then the birds return to the island and regurgitate the plastic, feeding it to their children. While the adults can regurgitate objects in their stomachs, the chicks do not have that reflex. So the result is that their stomachs fill up with more plastic than food. The plastic sometimes punctures their stomachs, or there simply isn’t enough room for real food. The chicks die of dehydration, starvation or toxicity.
Below are some images that people may find graphic, so I am putting a warning here before you scroll down. These were taken by Chris Jordan who did a documentary about the plight of these birds on Midway.
The result is that the island is littered with the bodies of these birds, revealing the plastic that was in their bodies. You can see that even though the albatross decomposes, the plastic does not. What makes this even worse though is the likelihood of another albatross eating that same plastic and succumbing to the same fate.
To put into perspective how much plastic there is in this remote area of the Pacific, 20 tons of manmade debris and plastic ends up on Midway every year, 5 tons of that plastic is fed to the chicks.
In the entire world, it was estimated in 2015 that 9 million metric tons of plastic wound up in the ocean, (that’s 19,845,000,000 pounds! – that’s over 19 BILLION pounds). It’s estimated that by 2025 just 10 years from now, the annual cumulative output of plastic will be 155 million metric tons into the ocean PER YEAR. By 2050 it’s estimated that plastic will be found in 99% of all seabirds.
This is a very serious problem that’s snowballing out of control. The only way to curb this is by empowering people to make conscious buying decisions away from plastic. Just because you put your plastic in the trash or recycling doesn’t mean that it goes to the landfill or gets recycled. This is a very common misconception. 50% of all the plastic we produce is used once and then thrown away, and Americans only recycle about 9% of their plastic waste. The only way to actually prevent plastic from going into the ocean is to not buy it in the first place.
Eco Nuts is proud to be as plastic free as we can get. We use paperboard and concentrated formulas packaged in aluminum specifically because we want to be the change. Our products have replaced over 1 million plastic bottles.
Baby steps. Do what YOU can. Make small lifestyle changes. Spread the word. Cause a chain reaction. Better the planet.