Posted by admin | 03.13.2013 | Marine Science

Plastic Paradise

Perched on the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago lies Midway Atoll. This 2.4-square-mile arc of land, sea, and fringing coral reef was discovered in 1859 and has been part of both a luxury tourism location and a strategic US Navy military location during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.


Midway Atoll is much more than a tactical location as it also acts as a habitat for numerous species of extraordinarily rare sea life. In 1988 it was recognized for its critical importance to many dwindling marine species and designated as a National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the sea turtles that nest here, it is probably best known for another threatened resident, the albatross. This tiny arch of land supports more than 3 million seabirds including the  Laysan, Black-footed, and rare Short-tailed Albatross.

MidwayAlbatrossThe albatross is a colonial bird (nesting in large groups) and lives longer than most other bird species, surviving upwards of 50 years. This extended life span results in delayed sexual maturity but once adulthood is reached the birds begin the quest for a perfect mate. This intense courting includes individually choreographed dances of preening, calling, and bill clacking. The result of this effort is a perfect coupling referred to as a “pair bond” and is a relationship that will last the bird’s life time.

Pair bonds dedicate their energies to the consuming task of egg laying and chick raising. Only one egg is laid at a time and it takes years of coupled investment to rear a chick from egg to fledgling. During nesting season, bird nests literally blanket the ground, once the chick hatches the parents will take turns guarding and feeding the baby bird during its first three weeks.

babyOnce the chicks can defend themselves, both parents spend days at sea on foraging trips consuming small fish, squid, and other marine life. They return to their nest and regurgitate the meal into the hungry mouth of the chick, only to leave again on another foraging mission. Unfortunately, it is not just little fishes that are being brought back to feed the insatiable hatchlings.

Since the 1960s the amount of plastic waste in the oceans has increased dramatically. This floating garbage patch is much more than just an inconvenient eyesore. Adult albatrosses, among other sea birds, are mistaking plastic flotsam as food and bringing it back to feed their chicks.


The BIG problem here being that plastic is not digestible! Plastics take up space in the stomach or gizzard, block the digestive track and result in malnourishment, low body weight, and decreased development  – reducing overall survival rate of the chicks. Albatross chicks are literally starving to death with bellies full of plastic. One necropsy done on a deceased Albatross chick from the nearby Kure Atoll found 306 pieces of plastic in its abdominal cavity.


The decline of this majestic sea bird is a direct result of a growing human population. One-time-use plastics have become the global norm; we buy something, use it, and throw it out. This unfortunate decision to make disposal products out of a non-disposable material has resulted in our plastic pollution problem.

Become part of the solution! Tune into next weeks Blog and learn how to lead a more plastic free life, with tips from Beth Terry author of  Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too,.