Midway Pollution

    Plastic pollution has become an inescapable feature of the world’s oceans – persisting for multiple generations. Since mass production of plastics began in the 1950s, the global amount of plastic manufactured has increased rapidly, with 100s of millions of tons produced each year. An estimated 10% of all plastic produced ends up in the ocean. Plastic materials now make up 60%-80% of all marine debris. Plastic accumulates and concentrates in specific zones, called gyres, due to regional convergent current patterns. The growing North Pacific gyre has some of the highest density of marine plastic reported anywhere in the world.Regular clean ups have prevented the return of 10ft tall piles of plastic, but daily debris continue to trickle in, with no end in sight. HWF estimates that between 15 and 20 tons of debris wash up annually and that 96% of the debri is plastic. Much of the plastic waste is brought back by the albatrosses. Their favorite food, squid, can easily be mistaken for plastic. The birds, renowned for their long distance flying abilities, snap up the squid-like plastic from waters near Alaska and carry it a thousand miles or more back to Midway. There, the birds either regurgitate it for their young or else ultimately die of natural causes with the garbage still in their stomachs. This feeding behavior brings over 10 thousand pounds of plastic to Midway every year, according to Anna-Marie Cook, a marine debris expert with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and that’s before factoring in the debris that washes ashore.hat’s a key reason why it would be so costly — too costly, according to federal officials — to undertake a major cleanup of the atoll. Instead, the people of Midway are stuck performing a kind of permanent triage focusing on corralling the largest, most threatening debris. Fishing nets are the main concern: If they wash ashore, the albatrosses and other local wildlife, such as monk seals and sea turtles, can get entangled in them and suffocate or starve. These nets get shortlisted for the trash piles that are eventually removed by the next NOAA ship, but space fills up quickly. All the other garbage, hundreds of millions of pounds of it, must stay.Midway Atoll, also known as Pihemanu, is part of the Hawaiian chain of volcanic islands, critical habitat in the Pacific Ocean. Three million seabirds have chosen this circular atoll with three coral islets as their somnolent rookery, and 250 different marine species populate the nearby reefs and lagoons. A forthcoming documentary follows internationally acclaimed artist Chris Jordan to investigate an environmental tragedy in this remote Pacific paradise: tens of thousands of albatrosses lie dead on the ground, bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch.
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