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Oct 20, 2009

Roadkill of the week: life & death in the Pacific Garbage Patch

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.

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Plastic cigarette lighters, bottle tops, fishing line, fishing lures, parts of shoes, plastic bags – just about anything we get rid of ends up here – in the guts of these baby albatrosses hatched and dead after a too-short life at Midway Atoll in the mid-Pacific.

And all this in a marine reserve, thousands of miles from any continental shore.


I came across these shots from a post by my very good friends at the Southern Ocean Seabirds Study Association (SOSSA) with whom I’ve had the rare pleasures on several occasions of sitting on a rusty boat thirty or so miles offshore from Wollongong with a half-dozen or so very large albatrosses sitting on laps on the wet-deck waiting to be measured, tagged, weighed and released – for the purposes of long-standing scientific research into these most magnificent seabirds.

I’ve written here before about why I take photographs of things that have been killed by human actions – in my case I mostly take photos of roadkill the victims of impacts with our cars that we drive too foolishly and too fast on our roads.

I take these photos because I want to bear witness and attest to the fact of their deaths and to maybe provoke at least one person to slow down when they see a group of large birds ripping into a kangaroo, wallaby or cattle carcass on the highway.

Or to stop and drag that carcass off the roadway and well into the bushes…

And these are the same sentiments that I suspect provide Chris Jordan with the motivation to do what he and his team do so well – documenting the monstrous impacts that the human animal has on this fragile planet.

These photos were taken in Midway Atoll, which the Midway Journey site tells me is:

…a collection of three small islands in the North Pacific, about halfway between the U.S. and Asia, and one of the remotest places on earth.

It is located near the apex of the Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling soup of millions of tons of plastic pollution. The islands are covered with plastic garbage, illustrating on several levels the interconnectedness and interdependence of the systems on our finite planet.

Midway Atoll, one of the remotest islands on earth, is a kaleidoscope of geography, culture, human history, and natural wonder. It also serves as a lens into one of the most profound and symbolic environmental tragedies of our time: the deaths by starvation of thousands of albatrosses who mistake floating plastic trash for food.

You can find out more about this remarkable trip by a team led by renowned photographer Chris Jordan at his home page here and see a whole lot more photographs, documentation and videos at the Midway Journey site here.

And these are true documents of distant and lonely deaths.

As Chris says:

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.

Enough talk – look at these photos – and then tell me that you don’t care about the junk we pump into the ocean every day!



chris jordan 5

Chris Jirdan4

Now – it worked huh – feel like shit?

Want to do something about this – change your life?

Join the good people at SOSSA or go to Chris Jordan’s home page and donate to support the work they are doing.

Or stop buying plastic cigarette lighters, stupid plastic drink bottles and don’t ever throw your fishing lines overboard…

And please, if you have something to say – register and leave a comment here!

Robert Gosford —

Robert Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

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11 thoughts on “Roadkill of the week: life & death in the Pacific Garbage Patch

  1. wyane

    I first heard of the Pacific garbage vortex last year. There’s a very informative PDF that I have, but can’t find the source. At the time I was living on Samar island, Philippines (the east coast of which faces the Pacific Ocean).

    I had a touristy type blog which was fairly popular (first page of Google results) and felt that I was promoting responsible tourism in one of the last of 7000 islands in the nation that had substantial remnants of virgin jungle. Samar is a biological hotspot — the concentration of species endemic to the island makes it one of the world’s most important (relatively) unspoiled areas.

    But as my travels around the island widened, I decided to delete the blog. There is tonnes of plastic along the coastline. By comparison, even Sydney beaches are impeccably clean. The size and quantity of fish caught in Samar has noticeably declined in the 5 years that I have been visiting. I just didn’t want to feel that I was really promoting an acceleration of the environmental degradation.

    Anyway, I’ve digressed. These photos bring to mind a Community Service ad that was on TV abut 25 years ago. A child says to his grandfather, “Poppy, why can’t I see the animals.” The reply began, “Well, there used to be these things called forests …”. Perhaps he should have said “plastics”.

    The question now is what will wipe out life in the oceans first? Acidification, overfishing or plastic pollution? Choose your tragedy.

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