Did You Know? The Albatross and the Bottle Cap

by updated 2011/04/02

This is a photo of an Albatross flying over the wind swept oceanThanks to Steve for his submission to the “Did You Know” series. I did know that plastic, apart from being a chemical insult to human health, also causes tremendous ecological harm. I did not know about plastic and the Albatross however.

The Albatross, among the largest of flying birds and the bird with the longest wingspan is so threatened that I believe it has been the object of a captive breeding and release program similar to the one that saved the California condor.  Still, thousands die each year, drowning after being caught in fishing nets.  However, the demise of this magnificent species may result from our inability to save them from the immense mountains of  plastic waste we humans produce. Of course because I am a consumer of plastic like everyone else, I am also part of the problem. I do make a big effort to use as little plastic as possible and make sure what can be recycled is recycled.  I am also meticulous in seeing that all plastic that can not be recycled goes into the trash, even picking up and later disposing of much plastic I find blowing in the wind when I am out and about. You can find numerous videos and photos on YouTube and other sites detailing the extent of the plastic disposal problem and the oceans.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch specifically, (estimated to be at least twice the size of the U.S. and 30 feet deep in places), is composed almost entirely of discarded plastic.  This floating garbage dump has even made it on the Oprah Show.  But I am getting off point of Steve’s contribution which is how this plastic impacts the Albatross.

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Photo by Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan has a rare creative talent that he has used to illustrate many different environmental and social issues.  His shocking photos, linked below, show the toll plastic is taking on the Albatross.   The Albatross has evolved to eat squid, fish eggs, and other floating natural food. Unfortunately plastics have become part of this floating buffet bar, fooling the Albatross into eating, and feeding to its young, the floating plastic. The Albatross may soon be extinct thanks to our discarded plastic. You may think that because you live nowhere near the ocean, your plastic is not out there.  Unfortunately the fact is that most of the plastic in the ocean gets there from many miles inland, floating down rivers and streams, and into the sea.  It has also been suggested that the Albatross must be a remarkably dumb bird to eat and feed plastic bottle caps, pens, lighters, etc., to its young.  But animals did not evolve with our garbage.  It is unreasonable to think a bird of any type could distinguish plastic from natural food.  If you look at some of the stomach contents of these dead, juvenile Albatrosses, the resemblance to natural, floating food is evident.

Jordan’s photos of the Albatross are hauntingly beautiful, and achingly heart-wrenching.  As you look at them think about this issue and how it is too late to believe we will ever clean the ocean of this trash.  But I do not think it is not too late to get the larger issue under control, thus reducing future problems from our addiction to all things plastic.  Sadly, it may indeed be too late for the Albatross.

Will Sig

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