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
1 Dennis the Vizsla

I first learned about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch from the book “The World Without Us”. It also talks about all the plastic microbeads floating around out there making their way up the food chain. Sad, scary stuff.
.-= Dennis the Vizsla´s last blog ..sandy klawz ekspozd: jollee old elf or partee animal??? =-.

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2 Will

Yeah it is Dennis. I read a bit more about this over the weekend. All those plastic grocery sacks are also a huge problem. Not just because turtles see them in the sea and think they are jellyfish. But apparently the bags break down into micro pieces that look like plankton and other small food. Then some sea life eats their fill thinking it is food, rather than plastic. The creatures that do this then have health and malnutrition problems.

Sorry your comment took so long to post, it was in the spam bin. I am guessing because of the odd words in your last post. I got a good laugh watching that video. Poor Santa!

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3 Anna

Hi Will, these are heart breaking images, especially because I love birds. You know I used to work for the company that was making injection molds for the plastic bottles of all kinds, such as water bottles, soft drink, etc. It was about 10 years ago. The message from the president was, the glass bottle sinks in the water, and the plastic bottle does not. His message was that the glass bottle will sink, we will never find it, where on the other hand the plastic bottle can be fished out. I wish he could see this and who is fishing out his plastic bottles now, but then his obligation was to have the business successful. Lastly, the interesting thing is that he was also very big on holistic medicine, saving white bears, and healthy life style. I guess sometimes we do not see the obvious…. Anna :)
.-= Anna´s last blog ..Digital Postcard Series: Canada Goose In Canada =-.

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4 Will

Interesting story Anna. I wonder what he thinks now?

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5 Anna

Will, I wonder too. Thanks for this post, it never occurred to me that birds would actually eat plastics. The company is Husky Injection Molding Systems. Anna :)
.-= Anna´s last blog ..Digital Postcard Series: Canada Goose In Canada =-.

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6 Anna

…Oh Will I forgot to mention, he retired few years ago.
.-= Anna´s last blog ..Digital Postcard Series: Canada Goose In Canada =-.

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7 Steve

Hi Will,
Thanks for covering this issue, and doing such a good job on writing the post.
BTW, the California condor is doing better, but is hardly “out the woods” yet. We will have to see if the released condors can survive long term in the new “wild” of today’s world, or if they will only survive in captivity. We still lose them to telephone wires and other human things, and lost several in the recent back country fires I think. Fingers crossed.
Thanks again for this post! Steve
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Are Trade Shows Obsolete? =-.

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8 Kamagra

Whoa, that picture of the albatross is heartbreaking, thank you Will for posting and therefore bringing the issue to my attention. Your post reminded me of a skit the comedian George Carlin did on saving the planet; –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eScDfYzMEEw

I was wondering Will if you’ve come across this before and what your take is on it?

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9 Will

George Carlin was an entertainer and a good one. Unfortunately he led a very unhealthy life, had problems because of that and died of heart failure at 71. His skit is funny, but makes very little sense from an ethical viewpoint. His ideas of earth enduring in spite of us are correct, though and parallel mine. Did you read this post?

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10 Victoria

Terrible, it is awful what bottle caps can do in birds…
There is so much we can do to recycle.

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11 Keith

Will,
It’s a whole lot like the notion that a butterfly’s wing beats in one part of the world can affect the weather in another part. There is cause and effect in this world, and little things DO add up. little things that are positive add up just the same as the negative ones. It’s time to start doing little positive things for the planet and, ultimately, for us.

With all that plastic out there in the ocean, it may be too late for the albatross. Sad thought.
.-= Keith´s last blog ..Apr 5, Rosie the Riveter, Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post Cover 1943 =-.

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12 Nancy

I have been collecting bottle caps to send to Allied Waste.They in turn recycle them for Aveda, who makes their bottle caps from the recycles. However, they do not help with the postage and I have 11 or 12 boxes at $13.00 postage each. No one wants these bottle caps. I have tried all my local recycle companies. I also saw Chris Jordan’s photos, so I am really in a bind. I have to get them out of my garage! Any suggestion?

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13 Will

This is the dilemma with all our waste, Nancy. We do not have safe, effective methods of disposing of it. I suppose burying it in an inland landfill protects the Albatross, but generates other issues. You might be able to raise the postage online somehow?

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14 Nancy

i guess the issue is not just what i have now, but what about the future? what can i do?

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15 Sara P

How could a bird not differentiate between worms or plastic bottle caps? If it is true why not people start using paper cups that have paper lids?

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16 Suzette

Hi Will. I read your article several months ago and shared it on my facebook wall. Such a sad situation we have right now with no hope of it getting better anytime soon. I wanted to ask you a question regarding sharing your article with readers on my website, but couldn’t find any way to contact you personally. I also have something I wanted to show you regarding water bottle caps. Could you please email me?

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17 Will

You can contact me directly by using the “Contact” tab at the top of every page. Thanks.

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