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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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