Since the introduction of plastics as a cheap and disposable alternative to metal, wood, and ceramic, the environment has suffered heavily from the influx of waste. Due to the nature of powerful carbon-to-carbon bonding in synthetic polymers, plastics decompose at an extremely slow rate and thus accumulate in large quantities in various parts of the world. The biggest deposits of plastics occur in the ocean and along coastlines. According to researchers at PlasticOceans.org, 8 million metric tons of plastic are deposited into the ocean each year. Many ocean organisms confuse these plastics for food or become tangled in them and die of asphyxiation. Along the coasts, seabirds that rely heavily on ocean organisms for food are affected the most by littered plastic. According to the International Bird Rescue group, 90% of seabirds have some form of plastic within their bodies.
One of the most glaring examples of plastic pollution in the ocean can be seen at the Midway Atoll, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of miles away from the nearest continent, Midway Atoll has become the ‘dumping ground’ for the plastics of the ocean. As plastics float away from the coasts of Asia and North America, the currents naturally move toward this point of convergence where they are deposited on the coasts. Midway Atoll is also home to millions of albatross, a species of large seabirds. These albatross, like many other seabirds, mistake the small plastic fragments that wash up on the coast for food and ingest them. What’s more depressing is that the adult albatross also feed the plastic to their younglings that are too inexperienced to get food on their own. Since the albatross can’t digest the plastics, their bodies feel full and they eventually die of malnutrition.
Due to this problem, Midway Atoll has gone from a place of beauty and serenity to one of death and decay. According to CNN reporters who visited the island in 2016, the first thing that hits you upon landing on the remote island is the smell of rotting bird corpses. Many volunteers on the island work full time scooping up dead bird corpses and relocating them to a mass grave. Workers are also involved in cleaning up plastic on the island, but while the volunteers’ work is incredible and commendable, the waves of plastic are enormous and unrelenting. It is estimated that on top of the plastic that washes up on the beaches daily, 5 tons of plastic are flown onto the beach in the birds’ stomachs as well. To this day, the tragedy of Midway Atoll has gone unnoticed by the public. Fortunately, some professionals have taken initiative to make people more aware.
Photographer Chris Jordan has been working since 2009 to make powerful pieces of artwork showing the horrors of plastic waste in a dark but beautiful way. In his collection titled “Midway”, he traveled to Midway Atoll to display the horrors of human plastic disposal by photographing dead, decomposing albatross with pieces of plastic still in their systems. Seeing the decomposing bodies of these animals as the plastic in their skeletons remain almost completely unaltered show the viewer the harsh effect that plastic has on the environment. On his website, chrisjordan.com, he speaks on the issue of plastic use:
“For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits. Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here.”
Chris Jordan has continued his work in the realm of eco-awareness with his recent work in 2016 titled Camel Gastrolith in which he displayed the unaltered stomach remains of a dead camel. The stomach remains were essentially a block of torn plastic bags and the art-piece once again serves to display the horrifying truth of plastic use on animals and on the environment. He also recently released his short film titled “Albatross” in which he goes into greater detail on his experiences while conducting his “Midway” photo collection.
Camel Gastrolith, Source: chrisjordan.com
Written by, Lewis Berger