Starving, with bellies full of plastic


Heartbreaking photos of albatross chicks, by photographer Chris Jordan:

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago 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.

See the gallery here. Be prepared to cry.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

More like this

How can they stuff so much iniside?

By Viperfish (not verified) on 27 Oct 2009 #permalink


Soliloquy for sailors aside, no albatross deserves that end.
Collectively, adaptation is what it is, but the actions of human society are too many and too odd for nature to assimilate. How can something adapt quickly enough to a blip in the food chain, especially when that blip hits like a warhead? Where does this responsibility lie, if not with us? How could I reconcile the shame of future generations puzzling out exactly how so many piles of plastic accumulated on a secluded island? Auto-cairns... we kill them and mark their graves with a singular lack of thought or effort. Countless, cheerful little mounds of the colorful reminders of our guilt. Like a field of dead babies discarded with toys they never understood, or had the opportunity to bestow upon their own. Oh, wait... nothing "like" about it. Shame. Piles and Piles of Shame.

I saw your story on the birds at Midway. Unfortunately it is old news, and is nothing more than a political agenda story. Just due to the location of Midway, in the oceanic currents, it does get alot of pollution. On the other hand many have volunteered to help clean up those upper islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, and the FWS won't allow any of it. The FWS, in my opinion, is infested with an overbloated staff almost nazi-like, radical environmentalists whose goal is to take over as many Pacific Islands as possible under the guise of environmental conservation, to the total exclusion of travellers and explorers (ie conservationists). They are, instead, radical "preservationists" who will have nothing to do with common sense "conservationists". They are of the opinion that any human contact with their precious islands is for the purpose of environmental destruction and those who want a meal of turtle soup and seal steaks. They are so deeply entrenched in their 100% preservationism, that the word conservationist has become a 4 letter word to them. It is short sided on anyones part to take any propaganda from these people at FWS to heart. It is little more than agendize spew to gain the sympathithies of uneducated readers. I dare you to critically investigate how much real time they spend cleaning up those atolls, as opposed to the time spent sitting in their cushy offices composing grant requests, and writing preservationist articles, accompanied by pictures of ill birds. You'd get more factual information watching a Scoobey-Do cartoon.

By chuck bondy (not verified) on 27 Oct 2009 #permalink

chuck bondy: I told someone that this post would bring out the wackaloons in short order. Thanks for proving me right.

I didn't write any "story on the birds at Midway" on this blog. If you are going to comment on the photo I posted, or the artist's comment about his photograph, go ahead. Are you suggesting the photos are false? Staged? If so, provide evidence or a link to evidence. Your nonspecific effort to malign third parties who aren't quoted here, while not providing links to anything you're talking about, is utterly irrelevant and useless to anyone reading this post.

Although your comment is ignorant and useless, I'm leaving it up as a specimen of the kind of idiocy that the internet generates - to whit:

"It is little more than agendize spew to gain the sympathithies of uneducated readers."

Pot calls kettle black, hmm?

There is a PLoS paper about this coming up this week apparently

For even better documentation, has anyone done an autopsy on a dead bird to prove beyond any doubt that their gullets are stuffed with plastic and this is not a matter of mistaking coincidence for causation? In cases where the carcass is near the shoreline it is not difficult to imagine plastic accumulating in the largely decomposed carcass; cutting up a bird which is not in an advanced stage of decomposition eliminates all doubt that the plastic was ingested. It would also be helpful to have a figure of the overall chick mortality rate vs. the mortality rate due to plastic.

By MadScientist (not verified) on 27 Oct 2009 #permalink

It is so sad!

I have watched programmes on this increasing problem. The waste is from other countries and gets pushed along on currents and ends up on the nesting grounds of these wonderful birds.

They need to stop people leave so much rubbish on beaches etc or it will result in a large amount of these birds becoming extinct

Poor Chuck.
I think he may have missed the whole point of Jessica's blog, what with the artistic biological ephemeral and all. This is Art, where the reflection of the world and our own reflections intersect. It can, as in this case, be evocative. Agendas aside, I see dead birds. With cavities full of colorful plastic. In fact, Chucky (may I call you Chucky?), Midway is just as prone to detritus as, well, pretty much any island. Tides are tides, currents are currents, and humans are dirty little buggars that make lots of indigestible trash. We ALSO make lots of indigestible and surprisingly useful technology (per Mr. Vosper). If someone wishes to make "propaganda", let them. They have the right, as we have the right to review it. I should point out, however, that there was no "written propaganda" delivered here... only a link to some pictures of, well, VERY ill ex-birds. "Ill" like your dead grandmother, should I choose to dig her up. Give Grams a hug, Chucky. She's ill, dontchya know. We should take her picture and secure a grant to preserve the cemeteries. (Sorry Jessica, but since the Crazy's already in play, I figured I'd pitch in too).
Now that we've dealt with Chucky (who, plastic or not, will one day be food for birds and worms, a fitting albeit minor contribution), how should we deal with our own reactions to these events? I have a very simple recommendation. It's easy and almost effective. Take the better part of a day, when your obligations permit, and clean up something local to you. I for one do not find a trip to Midway to be practical, but there are many streams and creeks here in Georgia that are horribly polluted. These are residential waterways where people dump their laziness away, until they pile into mammoth bottle-built bottle-necks. In truth, I couldn't even make a dent in a day. I know, I've tried. I cleaned up an entire 200' stretch of a stream in Atlanta, getting all the bits of garbage, only to discover a 6' high, 12' wide pile of rubbish upstream, loosing bits of crap back down the way I'd already cleaned. 38 hefty bags of trash, and you couldn't even tell we'd been there. That's in my own back yard, so-to-speak. I'm not even an environmentalist, let alone a "preservationist", but this is my home, and has been for so long that this change is making me ill. If you feel something similar, do something about it. Start where you can. Do what you can. You won't feel any better, but at least you'll know the trash you cleaned yourself isn't impacting active wildlife, and you'll get some exercise, too. Just a thought.

These photos are beautiful artistic images showing the very sad truth of the impacts of plastic marine pollution on albatross nesting in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Many people ( ) are studying this problem and many federal agencies NOAA, USFWS, USCG, and the US Navy ( ) have all contributed many millions of dollars to cleaning up the marine debris occurring in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. In 2008 the USFWS and Dow Chemical have contributed $200,000 to a research project looking specifically at plastic marine debris on Midway Atoll, it's accumulation rate, sources, and persistence. If anyone is in Honolulu on the 6 Nov. a Midway Atoll Marine Debris workshop is being held where the findings of this study will be presented, Call the PNMN office 808-753-3311 to arrange to attend. USFWS volunteers have devoted many hours of work to collecting data for this research. There are also many other artists that are working to bring the story of marine debris to new audiences and hopefully to be appreciated in a different way (like Chris Jordan) to learn about and see photos of their works visit…
Finally you can go and see this for yourself as well as experience all the amazing wildlife at Midway Atoll, over 1 million albatross nesting on 1400 acres, endangered monk seals, green sea turtles, and predator dominated marine reefs visit for more information.

better them than me!!

Hi Jessica,
I was heartsick about this. I'd heard of the giant plastics flotsam bed in the Pacific but this brought it home. Seeing all those bottle caps amidst the remains - and the pile of caps on my desk -- I did a bit of research and could only find one company committed to recycling plastic bottle caps which, due to their make up (usually polypropylene) are much more energy-intensive to recycle.

It's Aveda. Check them out at I've already contact our university's recycling co-ordinator about starting a collection program, and I'm contacting my kids' school tonight.

If you'll help spread the word, maybe we can reduce the stream of stuff not being recycled. maybe other companies will take note and start recycling polypropylene, too. Thanks for jump-starting me on this.

Hey (up)chuck: a bit of sincere advice to you - place the open tube end of the loaded shotgun in you piehole and pull the trigger. Hopefully you have not reached breeding age yet (alas, almost certainly a forlorn hope), illiterate scumbag.

By millhouse (not verified) on 28 Oct 2009 #permalink

I think the photo that made me the saddest was the one of the bird that died after "eating" a red plastic cigarette lighter, much like the type I used to use years and years ago during the brief period of my life when I was a smoker. Perhaps because that photo brought home to me my own participation in generating that vast sea of plastic that the albatross parents forage in to "feed" their young. I have tried lately to change things about the way I live, to have less of an impact on the planet, to support local and sustainable farming and so on. but it's such a small drop, in such a large bucket of evil we humans generate daily without even thinking or realizing what we are doing. I try to be as hopeful as I can but mostly I just feel like the planet is so completely screwed in so many dozens and hundreds and thousands of ways, small and large, that it would take it a millennium or two it doesn't have to heal from our presence. And it's not like we're going away.

When a friend posted the link for the over a week ago I couldn't bring myself to look at each photo. I scrolled down for a whiel but when I realised how many there were it saddened me.

It's not a new phenomenon but so many people are ignorant of it and the Great Pacific Myre aka Garbage Patch. The more we can spread the word and show people the consquences of incorrectly disposed of plastic the better.

Here's a little blog post I wrote in response to my enlightenment:

Thank you. Good work.

It's not just our carbon footprint we should diminish but also our plastic one. These photos could be used to launch such a campaign

By Joy Breeze (not verified) on 29 Oct 2009 #permalink

MadScientist has the truth of it, actually. Albatross certainly ingest plastic, but they can regurgitate it. And since albatross naturally have extremely high chick mortality, it's not known if ingesting plastic is actually increasing that mortality rate - the chicks that live may have as much plastic in their bellies as the chicks that die. The science just isn't there yet to say "Yes, this plastic killed this albatross chick." SEAPLEX researcher Andrew Titmus is working on this right now.

I have earned the right to unload on the radical environmentalists on Midway. I've been there. I've seen the problem and I've studied the ocean currents and am now involved with the UVP to try to do something about it. Plus, one of my ideas was made part of the current Midway visitation policy. I even put a group of divers together to clean up Kure, Midwy and Pearl & Hermes, and the nut jobs at FWS, Midway and the State of Hawaii told us to screw ourselves. Other morons see heart wrenching pictures and jump on the eco-wacko bandwagon, yet sit there picking their nose and do nothing about about it. The whack-job Mandarins do little more than sit on their throwns, count the birdies and collect their pay. They do very little in a tangible manner to mitigate the problem. They are glad to let bloggers in to post heart wrenching photos, because it fits the agenda of the whackos. And, its too bad you morons are too short-sided to let them get away with propaganda, instead of real action.

By chuck bondy (not verified) on 31 Oct 2009 #permalink

Chuck: you haven't "earned the right" to post diddly on my blog, much less random and uninformed insults. Either be an adult, or go away.