Trouble in Paradise

Yesterday we talked about how magnificent and amazing Laysan Albatrosses are.  I’ve learned so many cool things about them, but I also learned that they have some big problems to face. They are not problems that are exclusive to Laysans, but effect many other ocean/shore birds and marine animals. One major issue is plastics. I’m mainly going to talk about the effect on Laysan Albatrosses since they are the seabird I’m the most knowledgeable about.

(Image by Jay Holcomb)

Laysan Albatrosses are ingesting plastics that are floating in the ocean when they are hunting for food. One source of food is fish eggs and sometimes egg strands will attach to debris. Laysans will eat these strands and the plastic it is attached to it. According to a study by Barbara Mayer of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Management, plastics can make up to 50% of indigestible material in a Laysan’s digestive tract. Laysan parents will return to their chicks and feed them these materials without knowing what’s happening. A chick who has never flown or seen the ocean will in turn have a stomach full of plastic. Decomposing bodies of Laysan chicks are being found filled with plastic that they’ve accidentally been fed. Many albatross stomachs are filled with plastic cigarette lighters.  The plastics in the chick’s stomach can make them feel full. Laysan parents can regurgiate food; chicks can’t. So the plastic just sits in their stomach. As a result the chick may not eat as much food as it needs, leading to starvation.

Last year on Albatross cam one of the chicks, Niaulani, casted a bolus. A bolus is a mass of swallowed food and in albatrosses will include materials that were not digested. At a certain point a bird can “throw up” the bolus. Scientists should be finding materials like squid beaks in a bolus, but are finding much more than that. Some scientists dissected Niaulani’s bolus on camera and discovered fishing lines and plastic pieces.

Learning about this issue made me sick to my stomach. I’ve spent countless hours watching sweet, innocent Albatross chicks grow on bird cam and knowing their stomachs are filled with plastics is horrifying.

So the question is: what can we do about it? Unfortunately it’s extremely hard to avoid plastics these days. However, there are some steps we can take to help reduce the problem.

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle!!!
  • Make sure you are recycling properly. It’s no use if you are not following recycling guidelines for your area. Plastics are labeled 1-7 and certain plastics need to be recycled in certain ways. Learn about the different plastic numbers here.
  • Avoid and/or reduce your use of one-use water bottles and plastic bags. Use reusable bags when you shop. If you do have plastic bags many store offer recycle programs.
  • Make sure to throw away trash in the proper bins. Follow “carry in, carry out” rules whenever you visit natural areas.
  • Spread the word about these kinds of issues. Knowledge is power. If people learn about the negative impacts plastics have on the environment then people can come up with solutions to help. We can make positive changes, but people need to be aware of how their actions affect others (both humans and other creatures) in order to make these changes.

If you want to learn more about Laysan Albatross threats and ways you can help the oceans check out these links:

Ocean Portal: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Friends of Midway Atoll: Laysan Albatross Facts

International Bird Rescue

Marine Debris

On a related note, Audubon has a petition regarding the Albatross and Petrel Conservation Act (HR4480). If you are interested in learning more about this petition you can find it here:

Audubon ACAP petition



Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

5 thoughts on “Trouble in Paradise”

  1. Great and informative post, Sherry. Some things re plastic are changing, but it’s not fast enough; this post is an excellent plea for why things are not changing fast enough, and what we can do about it.


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