About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Intolerable beauty: Plastic garbage kills the albatross

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

Each year thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway Atoll from starvation, toxicity and choking. The culprit: plastic trash accumulating across a vast area of ocean known as the Pacific Gyre. The nesting babies on the tiny, remote island are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the polluted water collecting what to them looks like food.

Chris Jordan, a photographic artist and cultural activist, recently photographed the albatross’s fate. He says that in order for people to really become inspired about cleaning up the planet, sometimes we have to stop and grieve about what is being lost every day.

Jordan has woven his beautiful, terrible photographs into a video slide show, which you can see below. Turn up the sound on your computer before you begin, to hear the original soundtrack, which will enhance a haunting sense of awe, discomfort—and perhaps inspiration. More of the artist’s work can be seen at




Rights & Permissions

Comments 8 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Hans L 1:45 pm 11/11/2009

    A very sobering clip. My belief is that this problem will not be solved until the world’s population has economic security (and education), so that it can concentrate on not only survival.

    Hans Leander

    Link to this
  2. 2. smarghel 2:14 pm 11/11/2009

    Garbage! A problem that will plague the future of mankind. Oh wait, we said that like 25 years ago… Time to make a change. COPENHAGEN 2009!

    Link to this
  3. 3. Bops 3:55 pm 11/11/2009

    Careless disposal of trash has nothing to do with economic security or survival. It’s problem that has many roots. LAZINESS! Greed, and Personalities Disorders -that do not care. We ALL can do something to reduce the trash everywhere. I reduced our trash by half…I also fill a small trash bag along my walk. I’m getting better at recycling.
    Hans…what have you done?

    Link to this
  4. 4. stikmanz 5:03 pm 11/11/2009

    There is no such thing as "disposal of trash." We only shift it around to suit personal convenience and privilege. There was a slogan current during the WWII years that I propose for a new golden rule:

    Use it up; wear it out;
    make it do; do without.

    Link to this
  5. 5. wizewhiz 7:53 pm 11/11/2009

    This story is old news, akin to showing holocaust victims. It is printed only for a preservationist agenda of those at FWS. That ocean current and ocean waste have encircled that upper archipelago of the Hawaiian Island since the beginning of time. Granted, the quantity of waste in that current has multiplied, but FWS has done little to clean it up and little to combat it, yet they sit in their cushy offices, collect their pay and pensions and invite unsuspecting magazines to their island to promote their agenda. Adding to the problem is the fact that if Midway wasn’t significantly overpopulated by those goonies, (a condition caused by FWS themselves), there would be significantly less starvation among the birds. If you were interested more in science than political agendas, you could study the the total rape of California coast by the overpopulation of sea lions, and the rape of the salmon populations in the Northwest by the giant squid.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Naturefinder 11:44 am 11/12/2009

    Chris Jordan’s photos like those of the artists that have come before him David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton ( ) disply the unfortunate truth of one of the many wildlife related impacts of plastic marine pollution. The sad reality is that plastic may not even be the biggest threat to the albatross pictured in the photos. Longline fishing may have that dubious honor.

    As dramatic as these pictures are the beauty of Midway Atoll and the other islands that make up the second largest Marine Protected area in the world, The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is full of vibrant wildlife populations both above and below water. One of the things that makes Midway Atoll so spectacular is the fact that on about 1400 acres you will find over 1 million albatross nesting each year, right now the Albatross are returning to Midway
    ( ) and over the next month about 500,000 eggs will be laid!

    All of this is available for anyone to visit, go see it firsthand like Chris Jordan did and start to recognize the role we all play in the good, and the bad that this remote National wildlife refuge allows us to witness. A marine conservation non-profit Oceanic Society has 8 naturalist led trips to Midway in 2010 see for more information.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Facename 7:27 am 08/27/2013

    I don’t believe the corpses weren’t manipulated but more than that, I don’t care.

    Because these birds that keep eating plastic? They are idiots and they deserve to die. If an animal is stupid enough to kill itself, it deserves that death. Doesn’t matter how harrowing the death is, they earned it.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Chezpixelpixie 9:04 am 08/27/2013

    The moral of the story is: Pollute less. It’s the same message that the Global Warming people are giving. It doesn’t matter if you believe in global warming, or if you believe in saving the albatross. Certainly “Pollute Less” is something that you can agree with. I mean, you aren’t saying, “These birds deserve to eat plastic and die, let’s pollute more!” Whether or not you think they deserve to die or to be saved is completely irrelevant. Just pollute less! I tell my kid the same thing. No matter where you go – to the woods, to a friend’s house, to your own room – leave it in better condition than it was when you got there.

    Stickmanz – I like that ‘golden rule’. I hadn’t heard it before. Thanks for sharing!

    Use it up; wear it out;
    make it do; do without.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article