A visit to Eastern Island

Midway Atoll is actually composed of two small islands, Sand Island -which is the largest and the only one inhabited- and Eastern Island, slightly over one mile long, and separated from Sand Island by a narrow channel that provides access to the interior of the lagoon.

Matt Brown, Manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, took us on a tour of Eastern Island as he and two volunteers inspected three fresh water ponds occupied by extremely rare and endangered Laysan Ducks.  Eastern Island is entirely crisscrossed by abandoned runways dating back to World War II, today almost unrecognizable under a layer of vegetation that grows through cracks in the pavement.  While nature slowly triumphs over dilapidated asphalt, iron and cement, Eastern Island has not escaped the onslaught of plastic pollution, which is present everywhere.

Video by Bill Weaver. Cinematography by Jan Vozenilek. Voiceover by Chris Jordan. Interviewee: Matt Brown. Music by Vanessa LeBourdais.

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  1. Jeff Manker
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Dear Chris,

    I was part of the PAA group that went to Midway in June (with Ron Hirschi) of this year. It is both pleasurable and painful to watch what you are doing on the island. I smile when I remember the places I see in your photos and video but I also catch the sad melancholy of the plastic tide that is poisoning the island and its creatures. Thank you for sharing your feelings about what you are seeing and experiencing. I feel like I’m part of a support group for those who have seen the deluge and can’t quite shake the crush it puts on my heart.
    I teach Marine Science in a High School in Gilroy, California and I am working to give my students an appreciation for what I saw on Midway without freaking them out. I don’t want them to think it is hopeless. I want them to believe we can reverse this trend and change course. I hope I can find something in what you have done to help me do this. I am already planning to show them the Wave from your website to give them some perspective of the problem. Thanks,

    Jeff Manker

  2. Posted September 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Your story and videos are absolutely stunning…both in a wonderful and disturbing way. Thank you for sharing the experience with us. Algalita knows full well the story of the albatross and the effect that plastic is having on our world. Our most recent voyage indicates that we have a long, long way to go in reducing the amount of plastic that is entering our ocean.

  3. JSC
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    What’s interesting (or sad) is that while nature is reclaiming thousands of tons of steel and concrete left on the island, plastic — which was expressly intended NOT to have a lasting purpose in the first place — is forever.

  4. Welford M. Sims
    Posted October 10, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    The runways on Eastern were declared a National Historic Treasure and were to be maintained and preserved. That is not being done. The seawalls have been removed and the island is eroding badly. All historic buildings are gone, but in 1957-58 I was stationed there and went in most of them on almost a daily basis. A shame so much history was destroyed for the sake of a few with no vision of history and the future. I went back in 2000 and 2007. In 2000 I made 2 trips to Eastern to relive the memories made there so long ago. In 2007, most of Sand island and all of Eastern was off limits. Why, no one knows. I think it is ego.

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    The MIDWAY media project is a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy. On one of the remotest islands on our planet, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Returning to the island over several years, our team is witnessing the cycles of life and death of these birds as a multi-layered metaphor for our times. With photographer Chris Jordan as our guide, we walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy—and our own complicity—head on. And in this process, we find an unexpected route to a transformational experience of beauty, acceptance, and understanding.

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