Have you ever seen 500 people stunned into a complete and devastated silence?
Photographer Chris Jordan shared a sobering tale of his journey to Midway Atoll with the Poptech conference on Thursday, where he captured horrifying images of baby birds killed by plastic from the Pacific Trash Gyre. The crowd, which had been listening to a day of Big Ideas, was dumbstruck.
If you've never heard of the Gyre -- also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the Pacific Trash Vortex -- odds are you will hear a lot more soon. It is an oceanic trash pile in the north Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas, trapped in a remote, circular current. (Check out this explainer from Good)
As Jordan explained, it's not a floating garbage dump as you might imagine it. Most of the debris is made up of tiny pieces of plastic and other litter which is floating in a suspension beneath the surface of the water. Some researchers have found that water in the Gyre holds six times more plastic molecules than phytoplankton, the single-celled organisms at the bottom rung of the marine food chain.
Jordan traveled to Midway Island, near the site of the pivotal World War Two naval battle, to document the death of baby albatrosses on the island's nature reserve. The birds scoop the plastic out of the water and feed it to their babies.
It's difficult to look at Jordan's pictures of the birds, with the ingested plastic outlasting their decomposing bodies, without wondering: "Could that have been my bottlecap?"
From Jordan's website:
These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.
To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.