Plastic sits in the decomposed carcass of a seabird on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo: AP
world

Pacific bird refuge struggles as ocean garbage patch grows

18 Comments
By CALEB JONES

Flying into the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Midway Atoll appears out of the vast blue Pacific as a tiny oasis of coral-fringed land with pristine white sand beaches that are teeming with life.

But on the ground, there's a different scene: plastic, pollution and death.

With virtually no predators, Midway is a haven for many species of seabirds and is home to the largest colony of albatross in the world.

But Midway is also at the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area of floating plastic collected by circulating oceanic currents. The Hawaiian Islands act like a comb that gathers debris as it floats across the Pacific. A recent analysis found that the patch is accumulating debris at a faster rate than scientists previously thought.

Midway is littered with bird skeletons that have brightly colored plastic protruding from their decomposing bellies. Bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters sit in the centers of their feathery carcasses.

"There isn't a bird that doesn't have some (plastic)," said Athline Clark, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which Midway is part of. They "fill their bellies up with plastics instead of food and eventually either choke or just don't have enough room for actual nourishment and perish."

Sharp plastic pieces can also perforate their intestines and esophagus.

Papahanaumokuakea, which quadrupled in size under President Barack Obama in 2016, is the world's largest marine conservation area and was inscribed in 2010 as a UNESCO mixed World Heritage site.

"Papahanaumokuakea is both a biologically rich and culturally sacred place," Clark said. "The Hawaiians call it a place of abundance, or aina momona."

But circulating currents now bring an abundance of plastic and other trash from all around the Pacific Rim to Hawaii's beaches. The debris ranges from tiny microplastics that nearly every animal in this marine ecosystem ingests to huge fishing nets that gather plants, animals and other debris while bulldozing across fragile coral reefs.

"The estimates are that there's about 57,000 pounds of marine debris that washes ashore within this part of the archipelago annually," Clark said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Kelly Goodale lives and works on Midway, the site of a decisive World War II battle , and said the plastic that washes ashore there each year is just part of the problem.

"Not only are our beaches getting it, but also our albatross will bring it and feed it to their chicks," Goodale said.

Albatross spend much of their lives at sea feeding and flying thousands of miles across the oceans before returning to Midway each year to lay eggs and raise their young.

"So we estimate about 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) of plastic being brought to Midway every year just by adult albatross feeding it to their chicks," Goodale said.

The albatross tend to seek out squid eggs that attach themselves to floating pieces of plastic, which is why so many birds are eating the material, Clark said.

And it's not just the seabirds that are harmed by ocean plastic. Endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles can die while entangled in plastic nets. Sharks and other apex predators eat smaller fish that feed on microplastic. Whales drag fishing line and buoys behind them during their long migrations across the world's oceans.

It's important to understand the relationship between the oceans, marine life and humans, Clark said.

She shared a Native Hawaiian proverb: "Ma o ke kai pili ai kakou." It means, "The ocean connects us all."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


18 Comments
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Jees, what a mess we've got our selfs into, man is hell bent on destroying himself, the fragile eco system must be protected at all costs, its about time we made a boat that scoops up this floating waste from the sea, yes its going to cost a lot of money, and who is going to pay for it? it will have to be an international consortium, lets face it were ALL responsible.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Tens of thousands of creatures, sea, air and land dying from digesting plastics or wrapped around their necks. What have we done?

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I think the real conservatives are those who activists who draw our attention to such atrocities committed against the ecosystem. They want to conserve it. Even those who seem hell bent on a dystopian damaged future surely must realize that all those micro particles, vanishing wildlife and stocks are going to affect everyone eventually?

3 ( +5 / -2 )

 its about time we made a boat that scoops up this floating waste from the sea

Already been done. By a teenager named Boyan Slat. He is not as famous as Greta, but he actually did something about the problem. Search for his name - there are plenty of ways to help out, and his giant scoop that cleans the sea (without harming the fish) is already being used in places.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

By a teenager named Boyan Slat. He is not as famous as Greta, but he actually did something about the problem

Yes, because we all know that drawing attention to an issue is not actually doing something about that issue.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/dutch-inventor-unveils-device-scoop-plastic-rivers-66552262

Slats invention to clean up rivers sounds like a good idea. Solar powered, cheaper and easier to use than the invention to take plastic directly out of the ocean, and the plastic in the ocean mostly gets there from the rivers, so this invention might be very useful.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The boat with the net failed and couldn't deal with the stress of the puling.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The boat with the net failed and couldn't deal with the stress of the puling.

Failing is something happens a lot when creating a new tech. Most failures are a step closer to perfection, not the end of the idea. The early internet failed in a lot of ways, and yet here we are.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Brian Wheway - Jees, what a mess we've got our selfs into, man is hell bent on destroying himself, the fragile eco system must be protected at all costs, its about time we made a boat that scoops up this floating waste from the sea, yes its going to cost a lot of money, and who is going to pay for it? it will have to be an international consortium, lets face it were ALL responsible.

zichi - Tens of thousands of creatures, sea, air and land dying from digesting plastics or wrapped around their necks. What have we done?

Who is this "we" you guys are referring to? Wringing your hands, and posting something on the internet, isn't going to physically pick up the plastic, or prevent more plastic from being dumped into the sea. "Somebody" should do something as long as it doesn't involve you doing any physical work.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Some of us have been very active on the environment since the 1960’s. There have been many “WE”.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Remember when environmentalists were pushing plastics in order to save the trees?

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Yes, because we all know that drawing attention to an issue is not actually doing something about that issue.

Actually Greta’s antics to bring attention to the environment don’t do a darn thing to solve what she believes will be the impending global catastrophe that will surely destroy her future. Are her followers de-industrialing? Of course not. They aren’t going to give up the technology and modern conveniences that make their life so comfortable. The fastest way to save the planet within the 12 year deadline would be to build nuclear power plants as fast and as safely as possible. France gets nearly all their energy from nuclear- the Paris agreement is a piece of cake for them. But no, the world isn’t so important that they would risk helping the nuclear energy industry greatly reduce the CO2 emissions that will destroy man-(person)-kind.

You can see the effects of pie in the sky energy policies in California. They have the highest energy costs in America. It is uncanny how government intervention in such a massive way nearly always leads to some equally bad side affect. California forced their monopoly energy company to go green to the hilt. This resulted in insufficient investment in infrastructure causing massive fires and self imposed blackouts. Of course the massive fires have released huge quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. No doubt young Greta would endorse the exportation of similarly inept policies to the rest of the world. And maybe if she cries and scolds gullible world leaders enough they might fall for it.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Actually Greta’s antics to bring attention to the environment don’t do a darn thing to solve what she believes will be the impending global catastrophe that will surely destroy her future

Sure they aren't, which is why people are talking about her. Bringing attention to an issue is a step in the direction of dealing with the issue. Smooth, Wolf. Real smooth.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Sure they aren't, which is why people are talking about her. Bringing attention to an issue is a step in the direction of dealing with the issue. Smooth, Wolf. Real smooth.

I don’t believe it. Here is why. When a Dem is president, Republicans talk about balancing the budget and fixing entitlements. When a Republican is president Dems talk about how the debt is unpatriotic and that entitlements need to be fixed. Neither party does anything substantive about it but use the issue for political advantage. This is just one of numerous issues such as fixing health care and immigration. In Japan it’s no different - move women into higher positions in the workforce and get spending/ debt under control. Just talking points.

The result of all of this posturing is hypocrisy and failure to deal with the more serious issues facing the people.

Chip Star - what young Greta is doing has nothing to do with solving problems. There is no way any country, especially China and India, the ones contributing most to increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, are going to stop moving their people out of poverty. I got news for you, the climate always changes. A thousand years ago Greenland was a lush green country. Today it’s pretty frosty. Polar bear populations are not in decline. Humans will adapt and survive just as they always have. The global Left will use climate change as an issue to gain political power. But they will not appreciably change the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. If they were serious, which they aren’t, they would be all in on nuclear power at least in the medium term

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Referring to energy costs in California, we pay less for our energy than all but 2 other states. Our cost per kWh is typically a little more, but because of our climate we don't have to spend as much for heating and cooling than the other states.

California has the best economy of any state, one of the best climates, and our energy system is the envy of the world. There are a lot of homeless here, but where better to go if one is homeless than a place with a mild climate?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@arrestpaul "Who is this "we" you guys are referring to?" quite simply Man, the human race, I know that there are a lot of people out there trying, experimenting, on how to clean up our oceans, But, we the consumer need to change our attitude to plastic, the next time you go to a super market, just before you place your products onto the conveyor belt, just take a look at the person in from of you, just look at there goods to see how much plastic is used in the dam packaging, and ask your self this, "is it really necessary?"

As for wringing my hands, well that's not the case, I do protest to the store managers about the amount of waste and unnecessary packaging, unless we ALL stand up and complain the supermarkets will just keep using plastic, if its brought to there attention the customers are not happy they do take note, and pass this onto there suppliers, who look at it again.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

"Somebody" should do something as long as it doesn't involve you doing any physical work.

How do you know what the rest of us have done/are doing?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Referring to energy costs in California, we pay less for our energy than all but 2 other states. Our cost per kWh is typically a little more,

Average price 13 cent per kWh. California 19 cents per kWh. Only Alaska and Hawaii higher.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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