Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

Fauxtography? While the oceans swim in plastics, Pollowitz calls those who photograph the results liars

November 21st, 2008 No comments
In a brief comment entitled “Fauxtography?” in the conservative National Review blog on November 18, Greg Pollowitz (founder/CEO of iQ Venture Partners Inc.), remarks on a recent article and photo purporting to show the fatal ingestion of plastics by albatrosses.  Pollowitz notes that “The caption on the pic suggests the bird did eat this much junk, but I don’t see how that’s possible,” and so blithely opines that “Junk in the oceans is a huge problem, but alarmist fauxtography is not the way to a solution.” (my emphasis)
Here’s the photo in question:
It is nice to know that Pollowitz shares with the Greens the view that “junk in the oceans” – mainly extremely long-lived plastics – is “a huge problem”, but it is very disappointing that when confronted with a graphic photo he prefers to trumpet his ignorance by questioning the veracity of those in the field who are documenting the level and pervasiveness of the problem. 
But what are blogs for, if not for opinionated people to shoot their mouths off on matters they know nothing about personally and can’t be bothered to investigate?  Hopefully this does not represent the kind of due diligence that Mr. Pollowitz conducts when making investments – even as it may usefully indicate both how much he values his own reputation and the degree of credibility we should give to the National Review.
Even a modest scratching through the web finds plenty of hard information on the accumulation of plastic and other junk in the ocean, plus a fair number of the kind of photos and graphic videos of dead birds that Pollowitz finds difficult to believe. While it is difficult to know what may happen to birds at seas, it is rather easy to document that the chicks of certain seabird are dying (since they die on land) as a result of being filled up by their parents with indigestible plastic garbage.  Here is just a small sampling of information, photos and videos.
Jean-Michel Cousteau made the following observations regarding his visit to Kure, a remote atoll in the far reaches of the Hawaiian islands:  

There is grim news we must all face. Many of you who have been following our logs, or reading and viewing news reports, are aware of the shocking scenes that we found along the shoreline and reefs of these islands. Hundreds of seabirds, mostly young albatross, lie dead along the beaches with an endless variety of plastics lodged in their decomposing bodies. On almost every island we explored, the landscape was littered with the discarded products of human society from thousands of miles away -cigarette lighters, golf balls, toothbrushes, children’s toys, and fishing floats among others.

While the NWHI are largely uninhabited, the North Pacific gyre, a convergence zone of the entire North Pacific Ocean acts as a “pollution highway,” bearing plastic debris along its path. These plastics become encrusted with fish eggs and are plucked from the ocean by albatross adults seeking food for their chicks. They swallow the eggs encasing the plastics, return to their chicks, and regurgitate the deadly combination into the hungry mouths of their young. These young birds simply cannot digest plastic materials and the accumulation of plastics over the first six months of their lives can result in starvation and possible death.

Here is some reporting by the BBC this year from Midway, which along with Kure is part of the new 1200 mile long wildlife refuge and Marine National Monument newly declared by Pres. Bush

The Midway Islands are home to some of the world’s most valuable and endangered species and they all are at risk from choking, starving or drowning in the plastic drifting in the ocean.

Nearly two million Laysan albatrosses live here and researchers have come to the staggering conclusion that every single one contains some quantity of plastic.

About one-third of all albatross chicks die on Midway, many as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.

I watched as the deputy manager of the wildlife refuge here, Matt Brown, opened the corpse of one albatross and found inside it the handle of a toothbrush, a bottle top and a piece of fishing net.

He explained how some chicks never develop the strength to fly off the islands to search for food because their stomachs are filled with plastic.

Award-winning wildlife photographer David Liittschwager took photos similar to that which Pollowitz calls fauxtography:
One photo from Kure Atoll shows a dead, 6-week-old albatross chick, its open abdominal cavity jammed with discarded plastic cigarette lighters, bits of PVC pipe and other human garbage.  … Liittschwager watched researchers conduct a necropsy.

“When the bird was opened up, it was immediately obvious what had happened,” he continued. “Its stomach was easily four to five times the size it should have been, and when you touched it, it was crunchy. There were two visible ulcers where sharp objects had ruptured its stomach from the inside. Seventy-five percent of its left lung was damaged with scar tissue and infection.”

Human carelessness killed this and dozens of other chicks. Our plastic castoffs were caught up in the same ocean currents and intermingled with the squid and flying fish eggs gathered by adult albatross off the North American coast. The parent birds inadvertently scoop up the toxic flotsam while flying thousands of miles to forage for nourishment to fly back and regurgitate to their young.

“This is the most remote island of the most remote island chain in all the world,” Liittschwager said. “This is as far away as you can get, anywhere, from human civilization.” 

Liittschwager further noted in his book Archipelago (emphasis added):
The contents of Shed Bird’s proventriculus weighed 340 grams, more than 80 percent of this was plastic. Imagine: Three plastic bottle caps weigh approximately 5 grams, and a regulation baseball weights about 140 grams—two baseballs’ worth of plastic in Shed Bird’s stomach!  An albatross chick’s proventriculus is designed to hold huge amounts of food, as there may be many days between meals while the parents are out foraging. Chicks eat whatever their parents feed them, plastic included; if these items accumulate in their proventriculi, they will feel full and may not beg properly. Albatrosses eat indigestible items that exist in nature, like squid beaks, and a well-fed chick will have a proventriculus full of these items, which it eventually throws up as a bolus at about the time it’s ready to fledge. …. After the death of Shed Bird, I found and examined 60 Laysan albatross chick carcasses on Kure Atoll. Most to them contained more than 200 grams of plastic
Greg, an apology is in order – to Ms. Cynthia Vanderlip,
the biologist and Manager of the State of Hawaii’s Kure Atoll Wildlife
Sanctuary, who snapped the picture in question (and whom you can see
conducting one of the albatross necropsies below).  She is apparently
not a liar. Pollowitz, are you a gentleman?
More information for readers:
Albatross necropsies:
Photos and other information:
More on ocean junk later.
Categories: birds, ocean, plastic, Pollowitz, pollution Tags: