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Midway Atoll: Message From the Gyre

Chris Jordan's powerful photographs show the impact of disposable plastics on the albatross of Midway Atoll.
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Albatross, photograph by Chris Jordan

Midway Atoll, as its name implies, lies about halfway between Asia and North America, smack in the middle of the largest ocean on Earth. Surrounded by water for thousands of miles on all sides, it’s about as remote as a place can get.

But even Midway’s isolation hasn’t saved it from the impacts of human consumption oceans away. Seabirds are dying by the thousands, killed by chunks of plastic they mistake for food.

"I wanted to really feel the Pacific Garbage Patch. There's no way that I know of other than going to Midway."
         -Chris Jordan

Midway is in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area twice the size of Texas where floating plastic trash collects in a circular current called the North Pacific Gyre. The plastic floats ashore and is easily mistaken for food by birds flying over the water looking to feed their young.

Photographer Chris Jordan shows what happens when plastic bits are collected and consumed by birds: tens of thousands of Midway albatross die every year due to starvation, toxicity, and choking. The plastic remains long after the animals decompose, leaving behind a startling visual testament to the far-reaching effects of pollution.

These images were taken by photographer Chris Jordan in September of 2009 on Midway Atoll during a journey taken with four other artists. The music is by Christen Lien.


Bearing Witness: Chris Jordan on Art, Grief, and Transformation

Photographer Chris Jordan's latest project left him feeling grief and hopelessness. Now he wants more people to discover how productive those emotions can be. 

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