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Victims of the Pacific Trash Gyre

October 23, 2009
Chris Jordan, Midway, Message from the Gyre  Midway by Chris Jordan

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.

Chris Jordan, Midway

Midway by Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan, Midway

Hi important and difficult to view photos that truly make one understand the horrors of plastic debris in our Oceans –
Go to
If you want to contribute and activate in helping get rid of this problem –

Posted by Isabel Maxwell | Report as abusive

Stunning commentary of the harm man has inflicted on the global environment…

Posted by jonlberg109 | Report as abusive

There should be this type of consumer awareness message on television and the internet because people simply don’t know. All they know is that their ipod is working perfectly.

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive


We need to do better.

Posted by supersnark | Report as abusive

Green Peace is a noble cause, help fix it….

Posted by H. Linneweh | Report as abusive

For a start, ban red plastic. The photos illustrated show that most of the plastic stomach contents are red. The krill that adult albatrosses capture and fly back to Midway is red. The adults see the floating red plastic, think it is krill, catch it and fly back to Midway where they feed it to their chicks. The chicks then starve to death with a full belly – of red plastic.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adampasick: Victims of the Pacific Trash Gyre, documented by photographer Chris Jordan: #poptech…

Posted by uberVU – social comments | Report as abusive

This is awful, we as a whole should be ashamed. Poor animals.

Posted by Christy | Report as abusive

While in Peru,I read an underground news item about trash dumping directly into the Pacific Ocean,..I saw pictures of semi trucks unloading their stinky cargo ,.,.these trucks belonged to their government.

Posted by Brian D. Pound | Report as abusive

So terrribly sad for the birds and sea life that are destroyed because of “human” ignorance and greed. This issue MUST get more exposure. Thanks Reuters…A picture is worth a million words in this case…

Posted by Leslie M | Report as abusive

On top of this supposedly everyone on the planet tests positive for some level of plastic poisoning. The plastic out there just breaks into smaller pieces of plastic and never really decomposes, so all the beaches in the world have bits of plastic as well as sand. The Pacific Gyer is not a fun subject, definitely makes me wonder what of my trash is out there floating.

Posted by Moose | Report as abusive

As Pogo once said, “We has met the enemy, and he is us.”

Posted by exofishio | Report as abusive

The article refers to a suspension of tiny pieces of plastic, yet the pictures show large, intact ones. The images clearly show a different phenomenon than referred to in the article, which says “…it’s not a floating garbage dump as you might imagine it.” These dead birds appear to have fed at just such a dump. Where and what is it?

Posted by Dusan Ristic-Petrovic | Report as abusive

Wow. How can we clean it up? Can nets sweep the area? Is there a foundation dedicated to trying to clean this up? Being able to help would make me feel a bit better. Any ideas?

Posted by NoName | Report as abusive

To Dusan — A large percentage of the trash has broken down into tiny fragments, but there is still plenty of it intact.

Posted by Adam Pasick | Report as abusive

[…] from photographer Chris Jordan, who shared a series of photographs from Midway Atoll of baby albatrosses who had died from ingesting plastic from the massive Pacific Garbage […]

Posted by Nike, the albatross, and sustainable design | Going Green | Report as abusive

[…] from photographer Chris Jordan, who shared a series of photographs from Midway Atoll of baby albatrosses who had died from ingesting plastic from the massive Pacific Garbage […]

Posted by Nike, the albatross, and sustainable design | My New Toys | Report as abusive

Sad but True ! We will soon see a lot more junk coming to light in your own back yards while all the good things in life start to disappear for good !
Humans with their never ending creativity will seal the fate of our ” Plan-Net ” for good ! Not realizing we are the biggest wasters of any thing including fresh water ? We are surrounded by 2/3 of water ~ In which life took birth ~ Soon the Oceans will go acidic and CO2 rich ~ Killing millions living under water ? Leaving the Overlanders to richer concentrations of CO2 and muck to live on !

While our scientists go looking for traces of frozen water on the Moon and else where in the Galaxy ??? Where no form of ” Living Life ” has ever existed or exists ! Except in Fiction & Mind !

Sad but True ! Nobody is willing to take the responsibility ! While the blame game goes on ~ Blaming the other for it !
Old profound saying ~ ” All Good Things Come To An End ” !

Warm Regards ~ Enjoy The Warming laced in Plastic !
sing !!!

Posted by Somender Singh | Report as abusive

[…] from photographer Chris Jordan, who shared a series of photographs from Midway Atoll of baby albatrosses who had died from ingesting plastic from the massive Pacific Garbage […]

Posted by Nike, the albatross, and sustainable design  | Report as abusive

Staging dramatic “photographic” images without accompanying analysis and study hurts your cause more than you think it helps. Less dramatic, but more realistic indications from this study written up in Veterinary Pathology indicates no evidence of 1) injested plastics being the result of mortality, and 2) no indication that baby albatoss are being force-fed a steady diet of cigarette lighters and bottle caps. There is substanial evidence pointing to other human-activity mortality issues such as lead poisoning and vehicular incidents; but these don’t allow the advocacy brilliant technicolor dramatic pictures accompanying no analysis. Sorry guys, stick to the facts and we may have a dialogue. abstract/26/3/329

Posted by SLZebell | Report as abusive

I’m from Kamchatka. We try to use one idea taken from the Ecocap Movement tml
We (me and several children) have made green boxes, set them in 5 places – a cinema, cafe, ect. to collect the PE caps for recycling. I can show to my small colleagues who might be saved far away in the sea.

Posted by Arina | Report as abusive

@slzebell – Keep in mind that the abstract you reference was from almost 20 years ago and even they note that they looked at one year and it was a lower than average year. During my research at Midway and Kauai, I have personally had vets declare plastic ingestion/blockage of the digestive tract as the cause of death in several Laysan Albatross chicks. The photos Chris Jordan took are not sensationalizing a trivial issues – plastic in dead albatross chicks is not rare, it is the norm. In late summer/fall, those islands are littered with dead chicks and plastic. I am so glad that his work is bringing this issue to the mainland audience.

Posted by RSeabird | Report as abusive

I think this is an important issue. Especially disturbing to me is that much of what is in the gut of the pictured birds looks like it could be medical waste – test tube caps and so on. At the very least, the stuff looks fairly homogeneous, which would seem to me to be inconsistent with a generalized plastic waste gyre in the Pacific. The question is, is the stuff in the pictures from some sort of (possibly) illegal localized dumping?

Posted by Dusan Ristic-Petrovic | Report as abusive

Dusan, most of what I see in the photos is domestic waste (bottlecaps from soft drink bottles, a cigarette lighter), not medical.

Now, for a quick glimpse of the scale of the problem. The US EPA has reported that American citizens in 2007 generated, per person, about twice as much trash of the sort that winds up in the North Pacific Gyre (“municipal solid waste”) as the citizen in 1960. In that time, the US population has risen from 180 million to more than 300 million.

Yes. Merely to return to 1960 trash-contribution levels, each US citizen must, on average, reduce contributions to the waste stream by at least two-thirds.

Want to watch certain elements of the media go ballistic on “greenies”? Publicize this little calculation …

Posted by the amoeba | Report as abusive

What disturbing photographs, they must been be seen by as many people as possible .
please send them to schools and show them to the pupils so they can see just what is happening to our planet and our wildlife .

Posted by Les McCallum | Report as abusive

Heartbreaking – surely we must let everyone see this in the hope we can do something about this terrible nightmare. We’re winning with plastic bags, now lets return to glass bottles – have a deposit on them so they make their way back to the shops

Posted by Elsa Tranberg | Report as abusive

This is absolutely shocking and not acceptable. I will send this email on to my friends and colleagues in the hope that they will do the same, and so may the protests continue.

Posted by Marcia Goffin | Report as abusive

It is shocking, plastics should not be used for food wrap, it has health implications for us who use the food contained in it I am led to believe. Plastic takes years to breakdown, and if we stop using it today the damage will carry on well into the 22nd. and 23rd. centuries unless we can clean up the mess that WE have made. That will not be done …..will it?

Posted by Keith Stone | Report as abusive


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Posted by Regesuibids | Report as abusive

Very helpful info. Great post, I absolutely enjoy reading your post.

Posted by Irwin Firoozbakht | Report as abusive

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