With plastic pollution in the world’s oceans making daily headlines, the albatross population on Midway Atoll has become the heartbreaking symbol of this global problem. This collection of small islands in the North Pacific is home to millions of albatross — and scientists say that every single one of them contains some quantity of plastic. The birds are mistakenly eating debris from the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex of trash that’s 90 percent plastic.
Researchers have found dead albatross at Midway whose body weight was mostly plastic from bottle caps, cigarette lighters and other waste. Of the 500,000 albatross chicks born here each year, 40 percent die — mostly as a result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents. In fact, albatross feed their chicks about 5 tons of plastic a year at Midway.
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On Midway Atoll, a remote cluster of islands more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent, the detritus of our mass consumption surfaces in an astonishing place: inside the stomachs of thousands of dead baby albatrosses. The nesting chicks are fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean.