13 Sep

Message in the Body


It’s the end of Day 3 for us on Pihemanu (Midway Atoll) in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Pihemanu – “the loud din of birds” in Hawaiian – is relatively quiet now that the nearly 800,000 albatross are out to sea for the next few months.  Other seabirds are easier to notice now.  Terns, petrels, tropicbirds, frigatebirds and noddies are busy dancing and courting, feeding and raising their chicks.  But their sound and motion is punctuated by the thousands of lifeless albatross scattered about the island, slowly revealing their cargo of plastic.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife rangers, albatross bring almost five tons of plastic to Pihemanu/Midway every year.  The ocean is permeated with plastic and, like dust floating in the air, it’s mostly invisible to us.  Albatross concentrate this plastic junk in their bodies and deposit it on land when they die.  A Hawaiian elder counseled us not to view the albatross or the islands as victims of plastic pollution.  They have called this problem to them, she said, to deliver us a message.  We are hit with this message every day.  When can we say we’re receiving it?

Victoria Sloan Jordan

5 thoughts on “Message in the Body

  1. A Hawaiian elder counseled us not to view the albatross or the islands as victims of plastic pollution. They have called this problem to them, she said, to deliver us a message.

    But how many tons will the message weigh when all is said and done?

    And if the birds called this problem to themselves, then I suppose we called this problem to ourselves. In which case, what is the message that we are delivering with our bodies? What we throw out, we take in?

  2. It’s a paradox isn’t it Jeff – and such an ancient, mystic statement that they were given by the elder. Even as far back as the Tao te Ching (which I am sure you know well!) this tension exists:
    The Tao doesn’t take sides:
    it gives birth to both good and evil.
    The Master doesn’t take sides;
    she welcomes both saints and sinners.

    The Tao is like a bellows:
    it is empy yet infinitely capable.
    The more you use it, the more it produces;
    the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

    Hold on to the center.
    What a wild statement (and not science of course) – but I take the comment from the elder as one who stands back, sees the paradox: understands that “the center” is stuck between the horror the MJ team is seeing, and the hope that exists by their being present.

    It was certainly a challenge to ask them not to see the island as victim – it forces one into the event, not as a spectator: it makes you part of the pain, and not external advocates. It certainly is a challenge to have to ask ourselves if we really did call it in, and how far along the spectrum are we in fact victims – or part of the odd, freak, violent choice?

  3. I’m sure that Chris would be totally fine with it Sam.

    Thanks for asking, and thanks for linking. Thank you also for your blog post.

    I like where you describe that man throwing garbage into the river in Taiwan and what you felt when you saw it. I’ve been feeling very angry too.

    However I am not more angry at dirty people than I am angry at clean people. In fact my anger is not specific. It’s general. It is directed at us for being addicted to disposable habits, but also to those who have made a business out the generation of waste.

    It is important to understand that the plastic in the gyre is not a problem of disposal. It is a problem of design. It makes no sense whatsoever to use a material meant to last forever in the environment to manufature disposable products and packaging that we use for a few seconds, minutes or days. This has to stop and we need to urgently rethink the way plastics are used in our society.

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