The death of albatrosses from plastic pollution – does it foretell our fate too?

The Guardian, 3rd November 2009, reports: “Chris Jordan’s startling photographs capture the deceased albatross chicks that have washed up on an island the north of the Pacific, their stomachs overflowing with plastic litter. To see these photographs, click here.

It’s a discovery to appal a modern-day Captain Cook. A vast plastic terra incognita, composed of the detritus of our civilisation, has formed an area the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. And feeding on this submerged stratum of bottle caps and beer-can loops is one of the most beautiful birds in creation.

This summer [2009], Chris Jordan photographed albatross chicks on Midway Atoll, in the middle of the North Pacific. Contrary to received opinion, what has been dubbed “the Pacific garbage patch” is not a vast floating raft of rubbish, he says. “The actual scenario is even more insidious. The plastic is all underwater, suspended invisibly below the surface, and breaking apart into smaller and smaller pieces. Much of it has already broken down into tiny fragments about the same size as planktonplankton Plankton is a generic term for a wide variety of the smallest yet most important organisms form that drift in our oceans. They can exist in larger forms of more than 20cm as the larval forms of jellyfish, squid, starfish, sea urchins, etc. and can be algae, bacterial or even viral down to as small as 0.2µm. They are nutrient and light dependent, and form the essential foodchain baseline for larger dependent aquatic lifeforms. Fish species rely on the density and distribution of zooplankton to coincide with first-feeding larvae for good survival of their larvae, which can otherwise starve. Man-made impacts such as dredging, dams on rivers, waste dumping, etc can severely affect zooplankton density and distribution, which can in turn strongly affect larval survival and thus breeding success and stock strength of fish species and the entire ecosystem. They also form the essential basis of CO2 take up in our seas ecosystem, hence Global Warming., being ingested by the hundreds of billions into the small fish that are the bottom of the food chain for all marine life. One of the reasons I went to Midway is because the plastic surfaces there in this bizarre way.”

“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. Every year, tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.” He stresses that in taking these photographs, “not a single piece of plastic was moved.”

Sailors once believed, pace Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, that the death of an albatross was an ill omen, as the perennially wandering bird carries the souls of the dead. Perhaps we ought to have Jordan’s modern memento mori hung about our collective necks, as an indictment of our notional but illusory dominion.

Source: The Guardian, 3rd November 2009, For the full item, see

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