The Midway Islands are unincorporated territories of the United States, located about 1300 miles northwest of Honolulu, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Formally designated Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in 1996, there are 2.4 square miles of land. US Fish and Wildlife staff who study seabird habitats and island restoration are currently the human inhabitants of the islands. Enormous amounts of plastic waste from the ocean have washed up on the island, and birds mistake plastic for food in the ocean and carry it back to the island to feed their offspring. The island contains and receives so much plastic waste that a team of five dedicated people worked for several days and cleaned up nearly 55,000 pounds of plastic; they returned days later to find plastic debris accumulating again. The garbage consists of all types of typical plastic stuff: fishing nets, food containers, lighters, printer cartridges, toothbrushes, bottle caps, etc.
The Midway Islands are home to the largest population of Laysan Albatross birds. These birds, other seabirds and island animals mistakenly ingest plastic garbage every day. Scientists have recorded data on the dead Laysan Albatross on the island and more than 97% of dead chicks, and greater than 89% dead adult birds had plastic in their stomachs. Researchers have witnessed the frequent ingestion and regurgitation of plastic materials from parent birds to baby birds.
Chris Jordan is an American photographer and filmmaker who has been sharing images of the man-made destruction affecting wildlife, notably the Albatross, on the Midway Islands. Several years ago, I first viewed many of his photographs. I still find the images extremely disturbing; they have inspired me to eliminate/replace plastic items from my daily life as much as possible. I suggest that everyone view the photos or videos of the Albatross (easy to find online) that are and will continue to be victims of human-created plastic waste.
How did human behavior get to the point where a garbage truckload of plastic waste makes its way into the ocean every minute? An estimated 800 species worldwide are negatively affected by plastic waste in the marine environment. However, much is still not known about the damage created by our addiction to plastic. I have recently listened to a number of discussions about how difficult it is to find alternatives to plastic utensils, cups, plates, packaging, etc. due to the inconvenience or cost (or addiction?). What is the price of each species created by God? Is the life of each bird or other wildlife not as important as the ease/affordability of a plastic utensil or a plastic cup? The first step in changing harmful behaviors, such as the daily use and disposal of plastic materials, is learning and caring about the consequences. “The righteous care for the needs of animals.” (Proverbs 12:10)
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.