***This blog may contain content that some readers may find disturbing. Reader’s discretion advised.***
Marine debris- noun. Human-created materials that end up in the ocean or Great Lakes intentionally or unintentionally.
Plastic. Contrary to what Aqua praises in her 1997 hit, it’s not fantastic.
It has become such a problem that National Geographic dedicated their June 2018 issue to the movement of #Planetorplastic, urging people to be more conscious of their plastic consumption and raising awareness of this indestructible material we’ve created in our throwaway culture. News reports consist of whales and other marine animals dying of suffocation or starvation after eating plastics bags. Or an account of a straw getting stuck in a turtle’s nostril. Or seals with plastic six-pack rings around their necks. Marine organisms are, unfortunately, the canary in the coal mine to our ocean’s health.
On the islands of Midway, dead albatrosses have been cut open to reveal the truth of our ocean’s dire state. Chris Jordan, a filmmaker, and his team led ALBATROSS, a documentary that focuses on the albatrosses of the Midway islands. I was aware of this project while it was in the making and its screening could not have come in a more timely manner that aligns with the marine debris crisis.
Oregon State University hosted a screening and though I walked in late, it didn’t take long for me to catch onto what was happening; I knew the all-too-familiar fate of animals who consume indigestible plastic particles. In addition to documenting the success of albatrosses that were able to continue their life at sea, the filmmakers capture final moments of albatrosses that weren’t able to continue their life journey beyond the islands. A man, who I presume to be Jordan himself, mourns and sheds tears for those who didn’t make it. He then shares what seems to be a silent prayer, asking the bird for permission to expose to the world what it’s done to it. Scissors are used to perform an autopsy of the avian. Among the bodily slime, shards and fragments of plastic ranging in all colors of the rainbow are picked out of its digestive tract. The genuine emotion that is shown for the birds on film evokes the possible feelings within the viewer: sadness, fear, anger, disgust, despair, or hope.
The solution seems so obvious; reduce waste, avoid single-use materials. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. And to whatever solutions that are out there, it’s not that simple. Recycling requires lots of energy and doesn’t necessarily compensate for the rate of which materials are being produced, not to mention that many parts of the world don’t have the infrastructure to host recycling facilities. Reusing jars to fill with bulk items can be costly for the consumer, who may not have the financial stability to engage in that lifestyle. Biodegradable plastics likely won’t decompose in a landfill given that the conditions aren’t right. Sure, each little step does make a difference but it’s also important to realize that the answer isn’t as easy as it seems.
For those who do want guidance on what they can do to help, I have some suggestions on my blog mentioned below. But I’m not here to preach what everyone must do to save the world because I think it’s condescending and unnecessary. I’m here to bring awareness to the topic, albeit on a slightly pessimistic level. My research will look at how marine debris is communicated over online communication platforms such as social media, websites, and blogs. There’s no doubt that the message is clear; marine debris is a global crisis and it’ll take a global effort to combat the problem. But what effect does an image have on someone’s decision to make conscious efforts or even care about the topic for that matter? There might not be a way to know and I think that is the hardest part to accept.
ALBATROSS is available for all to watch online, viewer’s discretion advised:
I invite you to visit my travel blog where I’ve included a section dedicated to marine debris:
For more information on National Geographic’s June 2018 plastic issue, visit: