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See Inside February 2011

What Is It? Death by Plastic

Bottle caps, plastic lids and other fragments of our society found inside the stomachs of birds



Chris Jordan

Much of the 260 million tons of plastic the world uses every year winds up in the oceans, threatening marine life. Indeed, a mass of floating trash, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has been observed in the northern part of the ocean. Over the past two years photographer Chris Jordan has documented the affect the plastic debris has had on wildlife on Midway Atoll, which is northwest of the Hawaiian Islands. This three-square-mile area is home to the albatross, the world’s largest flying bird. Albatross parents often mistake colorful debris for sea life and feed it to their chicks, which can prove fatal. “There’s a dead bird every 10 steps in different decomposed stages,” Jordan says. He photographed the chicks and the contents of their stomachs: bottle caps, lids from tops of spice bottles, lighters and other fragments. 

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