From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published November 2, 2011 04:21 PM

Birds and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A swirling sea of plastic bags, bottles and other debris is growing in the North Pacific, and now another one has been found in the Atlantic. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches for hundreds of miles across the North Pacific Ocean, forming a nebulous, floating junk yard on the high seas. It's the poster child for a worldwide problem: plastic that begins in human hands yet ends up in the ocean, often inside animals' stomachs or around their necks. Since 2009, photographer Chris Jordan has been documenting birds on Midway Atoll way out in the Pacific Ocean — near what is known as the Pacific Garbage Patch. What Jordan found on those islands were carcasses of baby birds that have died an unnerving death: According to the BBC, "about one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents."


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean located roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of plastic concentration used to define the affected area.

The size of the patch is unknown, as large items readily visible from a boat deck are uncommon. Most debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface, making it impossible to detect by aircraft or satellite. Instead, the size of the patch is determined by sampling. Estimates of size range from 270,000 sq miles to more than 5,800,000 sq miles (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean).

Jordan was a runner-up this year for the Prix Pictet, a prize in photography and sustainability, for a morose series that shows plastic guts spilling from dead birds. His photos, and others from the Prix Pictet contest, are currently touring various museums. He is also producing a film about his journeys to Midway Atoll, where the photos were taken.

In the fall of 2009, Jordan visited the Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and photographed the astounding evidence of human garbage found inside the bellies of albatross chicks. The baby birds are fed plastic debris by their parents who mistake it for food. As a result, hundreds of thousands of albatross babies are poisoned, choked, or suffer from deadly blockages every year.

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Photo: Chris Jordan

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