Thu | Nov 21, 2019

Iconic Pacific bird sanctuary ravaged by plastics

Published:Thursday | November 7, 2019 | 11:12 AM
In this October 22, 2019, photo, plastic sits in the decomposed carcass of a seabird on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

MIDWAY ATOLL, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (AP) — 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 coloured plastic protruding from their decomposing bellies.

Bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters sit in the centres 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 oesophagus.

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