How to Kill a Young Albatross

Chris Jordan is at it again…last summer, I linked to his series of photomosaics “Running the Numbers II,” depicting in unique and numerically staggering fashion some of the wounds we inflict on the ocean. His current work, “Midway,” is a photo-documentary of a different kind. In it, he shows—untouched and unretouched—the dessicated carcasses of young albatrosses at Midway Atoll, in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in the central North Pacific. The dead birds, though, are nowhere near as saddening as what killed them: stomachs full of plastic shit, brought back to the nest by foraging parents who thought it was food, and now framed by their decomposing bodies.

Dead albatross with stomach full of plastic flotsam, photographed on Midway Atoll by Chris Jordan.

Dead albatross with stomach full of plastic flotsam, photographed on Midway Atoll by Chris Jordan.

I spent five weeks in the spring of 2007 sailing across the central North Pacific aboard the SSV Robert C. Seamans, of the Sea Education Association. One of the stops on our cruise was Kingman Reef, a barely-dry heap of coral rubble atop a coral reef. Kingman is utterly remote [map] and has never been home to any human, but the beach there was still littered with plastic junk that had washed up from God knows where. Coney Island ain’t got shit on Kingman Reef. There was something truly eerie about standing on the top of of this tiny, alien island, ten feet fromt the water’s edge and four feet above sea level, and being surrounded by such familiar junk as gatorade bottles and flip flops.

Looking through these photos, it is hard not to be moved, and to wonder what the consequences of all these ossified petrochemicals will be for the albatross and other sea life. Like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, these birds will not have a bright future in plastics.

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