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An ocean of plastic

There’s a place in the center of the Pacific Ocean where all currents converge, and swirls of colorful confetti billow through otherwise blue waters. But far from magical, these tiny shards are pieces of plastic from around the world, whirled in a gyre known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

No one knows exactly how big it is, but some scientists estimate it to be twice the size of Texas.

And nowhere is the impact of this floating landfill on marine life more clear than on the Midway Atoll, an island of coral and sand near the Garbage Patch where albatross come to nest.

Photographer Chris Jordan began to document what’s happening to the albatross on Midway starting in September 2009.

Images by Chris Jordan via CC. Watch a video version of this slideshow.

“Not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way,” he writes on his website. “These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent.”

If you’re skeptical, watch this video of Jordan cutting open a dead albatross chick.

Jordan has been posting short video dispatches from his journey to Midway on the project’s website, which will eventually be developed into a documentary.

These short videos capture both the beauty and the tragedy of the albatross on Midway.

An estimated 330 million tons of plastics will be manufactured in 2010. That’s more than 100 pounds of new plastic for every person on earth. And in the U.S., only 7 percent of that will be recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, and some ends up in rivers, streams and eventually the ocean.

Learn more about plastics in the Pacific Ocean in this video report from partner station KQED.

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  • Andrea Larson

    I wish articles and coverage like this one were posted more often. I’ve known about this for years, but many people are still be ignorant, whether it’s because they really don’t know, or they choose to not want to know- it’s inconvenient. Every time you throw away plastic, you have to wonder where it ends up. This is one answer.

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  • An Ocean of Plastic (with Pics & Video) « Earth Environment Underground

    [...] There2019s a place in the center of the Pacific Ocean where plastic from around the world converges in a whirling gyre known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Nowhere is the impact of this floating landfill clearer than on the Midway Atoll, where albatross go to nest. … Read ahead [...]

  • Douglas Townsend

    Houston recently has started a recycling program. The city provides a green, 30 gal trash receptacle (that’s a trash can folks) specifically for recyclables to be picked up every two weeks. My friends living there fill theirs up way before they fill their other trash can.They think they are being “green” and “conservationist”; they are doing their part. I commented that they were using way too much plastic! I wonder if they’d bother if Houston didn’t threaten stiff fines for those who don’t participate. Yet, they think they are doing their part. Well, that’s better than just throwing the stuff out, but they don’t realize, in fact are somewhat mislead to believe that all of it will actually be recycled. They returned from the store later that day with, wouldn’t you know it, 4 cases of bottled water, their weekly amount!
    We need more pictures of this, like these and others, and the facts of where our recyclables go,to show to people who remain blind to their behavior.

  • Kem Patrick73

    President Obama could have begun to create his “millions of good paying jobs” he promised, had he initiated a massive program to clean up this polluting dump which is helping to destroy all life in the Pacific Ocean.. By far, most plastic is made with oil, that plastic will be as destructive to the eco-system as many ExxonValdez spills and it is never ending. We could have tropened ship yards and built several ships the size of an oil tnaker and designed them to skim up that plastic, compact it and bring it to a recycling plant built on Midway Island or in Caliifornia. At least a million new jobs. We either clean up the dump or watch it grow, until it becomes how large? I understand that about 1/4 of it has sunk to the bottom now as the bits and pieces of plastic degraded enough so they were no longer bouyant enough to float. True?

  • Beverly

    Indeed, “ignorance will destroy us” and I thank you for bringing this to my attention for my personal learning & ability to choose more wisely, along with this beautiful produced video, allowing me to share with others.
    With gratitude…Thank you ALL!

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  • Sean Reel

    My company may have part of the Solution. We have a patented process that converts mixed waste plastic back into useable plastic products. We are seeking partners to discuss this further. Our company is One Delta Plc and we are based in the UK. I hope we can help.

  • Stephen P Reid

    The Australian government should contract the contentious supertrawler to “catch” the vast amount of plastic that has accumulated in the middle of the Pacific, while they go through the process of deciding whether to allow it to catch fish.

    Not only would it be a win-win for the environment and the trawler owners, but it would also avoid any possible legal action by the company, which could potentially be VERY expensive for the Australian taxpayer!

    It’s not just a sensible idea, it’s the right thing to do for our future, and it also opens up the possibility of potentially profitable recycling opportunities.
    A no-brainer in my opinion. How come none of you have thought of it? :-)

  • Audrey Elizabeth

    My brother pointed this out to me when I got a plastic bag for some Chapstick one time. Since then I have been trying to cut back, but one thing that kills me is working in retail and how many bags we go through in a day.