Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Things on the Beach (Part 2)

Part 1 of Things on the Beach showed you the things you are supposed to find on a remote island far away from civilization. Seashells, fish and lobster parts, sea urchins and the like. Unfortunately, there has to be a Part 2 that shows us all that there really is no such thing as remote.

These first pictures are from Eastern Island. Neighboring Sand Island has been cleaned up for the most part.

All of these items are things people have disposed of directly into the ocean. The most common things that wash up onto the shore include fishing gear, glass and plastic bottles, and cigarette lighters. They are part of a much bigger problem: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

Marine debris poses hazards to wildlife in a few ways: entanglement, ingestion, and toxic build-up. To ecosystems, it threatens stability by entering the food chain. (Plastics do not biodegrade and so they become small enough to be eaten by aquatic organisms).

Laysan Albatrosses are particularly attracted to floating debris because they usually have fish eggs attached to them. On foraging trips, they will often collect things like rope fragments, plastic toys, and light bulbs and will then later regurgitate them to their hungry chicks. Chicks can suffer from dehydration, malnutrition, lacerations to internal organs and sometimes starvation, due to limited space in their stomach. Read about Shed Bird.

My own personal experiences with the effects of marine debris have been a bit jarring.
Once, I happened to observe something hanging out of an adult albatross's mouth. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was monofilament fishing line. I managed to get a hold of the end and I pulled and pulled and pulled until all 3 feet of it came out of the bird's stomach. There was quite the bounty of fish eggs attached to the line. The same bird was apparently in the process of feeding its chick and after a regurgitation session, again I saw some line. Once more I pulled it out, he regurged and again more line. I hoped that was the last of it, but I wasn't optimistic.

Another time, I was walking the shoreline on Eastern Island. There has not been as much cleanup here than on Sand Island and so people have just been stacking various things in large piles along the beach. I came across one albatross chick who looked like it had been caught in a pile of fishing net for quite some time. His toes and foot had become completely necrotic from the line tightening around it's leg and the end of his ankle bone was exposed from the constant struggle against the net. I managed to cut his dead leg out of the net, but I do wonder if he's not long for this world.

So. The lesson for all of us today is the 3R's. Reduce, reuse and recycle. And when you can't do any of these, properly dispose of your trash. And please keep in mind that even though you may not live by the ocean, your actions still make an impact.

On a lighter note, I end with some particularly strange things that we've found washed up:

For riding dolphins??


  1. That's really sad you had to cut off a bird's leg. I liked your editorial - very wise words. Great pics Meg!


  2. Yes, very sad. It was not a happy day. :(

    Thanks for the comment!