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The Albatross Chick and Plastic Debris

Posted Feb 16 2010 6:44am

The Laysan albatross has come to represent the harmful effects of plastic trash in our oceans.  They are fascinating sea birds that spend almost their entire life flying over the waters of the North Pacific Ocean.  They even sleep in flight.  To eat, they sit on the water surface and scoop up delectable things like squid and fish eggs.

Unfortunately adult albatrosses also eat plastic.  It may be accidentally. It may be that they don’t recognize it as non-food.  It may be that fish lay their eggs on floating plastic and sea birds find that appetizing.  The parent birds may spend several days hunting and collecting food for their babies.  While foraging, they pick up plastic and take it back to the nest.  They regurgitate food and plastic into the baby’s mouth.  When the baby albatross grows large enough, it will normally throw up the undigested material in its stomach, then take its first flight.  Some undigested material is normal, like squid beaks or pieces of drift wood.  As many as 30% to 40% of all Laysan albatross chicks on Midway Island die before they fledge because they starve to death.  Their stomachs are so full of non-nutritious plastic that they are too weak for the first flight.

There is so much plastic debris in our oceans that it is beginning to affect the health of marine organisms and even humans.  If plastic is not disposed of properly, it can make its way from land to the oceans where it is carried on ocean currents.  In large areas where the currents move in a circular path, the plastic accumulates in the center - rather like a toilet with no outlet.  An area like this is called a gyre and there are five major ones on Earth.

Plastic does not degrade.  Instead it breaks up into small bits as the sun and waves wear it down.  These tiny pieces act like sponges, soaking up toxic chemicals like DDT or PCB.  At this point it can enter our own food chain when a fish accidentally eats it.

Some of the things found in the remains of albatross chicks include:  cigarette lighters, toothbrushes, bottle caps, toy soldiers, straws, fishing paraphernalia, plastic ropes, Zip-loc bags, plastic bottles, cigarette filters, plastic packaging and countless plastic pieces smaller than your fingernail. Anything ever made of plastic can now be found in the ocean.  All of this material is familiar to us.

You can help fund education and research about this issue by donating to Sea of Change.

Sea of Change is a non-profit organization dedicated to education and research about the plastic debris issue.  It was founded by Joel Paschal, who has been on many research voyages with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and NOAA.  Sea of Change, based in Hawaii, makes presentations to school children, takes research trips to sample the ocean for plastic, organizes beach cleanup events, and teaches young people about ocean issues.

Please help support Sea of Change by making a tax exempt donation.  For a donation of $50 or more, Sea of Change will send you this stuffed albatross chick.  It is handmade and comes with its own name and numbered leg band.

How Can You Help Keep Our Oceans Healthy?

1. This toy albatross chick is a sign that you are already helping.  Continue to support Sea of  Change.
2. Stop using disposable plastics, like plastic razors or disposable lighters.
3. Carry your own reusable shopping bag and/or water bottle.  Do not buy bottled water.
4. Look for products made from recycled materials that have little packaging, or packaging that is recyclable.
5. Try to avoid polystyrene products—bring your own mug to the coffee shop and a container for leftovers when you eat out.
6. Recycle!
7. Make sure all trash, especially plastics are disposed of properly.
8. Pick up litter on the street and put it in a trash can.
9. Teach the young people in your life about this issue.

Make your check payable to Sea of Change. and mail toSea of Change
3828 N 800 W
West Lafayette, IN 47906

Your Name_______________________________________________________

Mailing Address___________________________________________________


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