Eidt J. WilderUtopia. 2012. Midway Atoll: The Plastic Plight of the Albatross. WilderUtopia, U.S. Available from http://www.wilderutopia.com/sustainability/midway-atoll-albatross-paradise-plastic-pollution-by-jack-eidt/ (accessed February 25, 2013).
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, more than 3,000 kilometres from the nearest continent, lies a small chain of isolated volcanic islands called Pihemanu. Millions of seabirds arrive on these islands during the breeding season to reproduce and raise the young chicks. Among these birds are several species of albatross which feed on basically anything they can catch from the ocean. This non-selective feeding, combined with the fact that the albatrosses forage around the infamous “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, leads to major problems for these big birds.
When the adult albatrosses return from the ocean with bellies full of food (and whatever else they could fit in their mouths), they feed the chicks by regurgitating some of their stomach contents. Many of the chicks end up with large amounts of plastic in their digestive systems. The plastic accumulation inside of chicks’ stomachs often blocks or damages the digestive tract or simply fills the gut over time. This frequently leads to death because the chicks can no longer properly process and digest real food. Other causes of death are thought to be poisoning by certain plastics and blockages of the airway, leading to suffocation. It has been found that approximately 200,000 of the 500,000 chicks born each year die, and although many deaths are natural, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that chicks containing more plastic were more likely to die from factors such as dehydration or starvation. The total estimated amount of plastic that is fed to albatross chicks on these islands each year is around five tons.
This sad example is just one of many around the world that illustrate the harmful environmental impacts of plastic. But what can we do to improve this situation and others like it? It may be hard to see any solutions in our current situation, especially since there is already so much plastic littering the planet and humans continue to produce and use the material extensively. However, there are ways to potentially fix or alleviate the effects of plastic on organisms and the environment. One of the most obvious and attainable approaches is to change our own behaviour and habits. For example, recycling as much as possible and avoiding buying plastic products could help. Promoting and buying from companies that use environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic is also a good idea. The general public must also be aware of these issues in order for behaviours to change. Informative articles, presentations, or documentaries such as Midway by Chris Jordan (click http://vimeo.com/25563376 for the trailer), although depressing, could be useful media in getting the average person involved and passionate about conservation concerns.
Word Count: 440