Former Kayak Tour Guide Warns of Garbage Island in the Pacific Ocean

An island of floating plastic garbage twice the size of Texas is trapped within the current gyre in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. The trash originated from countries that ring the Pacific and is continuing to grow in size. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been studying the phenomenon for over a decade. Charles Moore of Algalita calls it the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and describes it as a “swirling plastic cesspool”.

The plastic garbage poses a great danger to marine wildlife, ranging from turtles to whales. Confused turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and die of intestinal blockage after consumption. Seabirds mistake bright bits of plastic trash for fish and squid and succumb to the same death. They also carry the deadly bits back to their nests to feed their young. Endangered monk seals and other marine mammals such as whales frequently get entangled and drown.

Wayne Sentman is a former Sea Quest kayak tour guide and naturalist educator who left us to study the problem from Midway Island, a wildlife refuge northwest of Hawai’i. Midway is home to three million breeding seabirds including two-thirds of the world’s Laysan Albatross. Wayne describes the beaches of the remote island as a “garbage dump” as trade winds continually blow huge mounds of plastic debris on shore.

As Wayne said, “Between birds dying due to plastic or regurgitating it to their chicks, some five tons of the stuff is deposited on Midway each year.” He’s routinely found dead birds whose stomachs were filled with bulbs, flashlights, toys and syringes with needles. “I never use a plastic lighter now, because I found one bird had ingested six,” says Sentman. “It’s mind-boggling. You’re in the middle of the Pacific and you expect pristine beauty. But plastic is all over.”

Futurists and speculative fiction writers like Neal Stephenson have suggested that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will eventually grow dense enough to be colonized by human immigrants and be declared a sovereign nation – a real life “Water World”!

Blog Comments

Wayne wants to let our readers know that USA today quoted him out of context when he reportedly called Midway Island a "garbage dump". Of course, he was only referring to the piles of nets and plastic debris that collect on the windward beaches. Wayne warns that the floating plastic may not be the biggest threat to the albatrosses. Longline fishing hooks and drowns thousands of these slow-breeding birds each year and they may not be able to keep up with the losses.

Wayne also wants everyone to know that Midway Atoll now lies within the second largest marine protected area in the world, recently designated as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. He is very enthusiastic about what he describes as "vibrant wildlife populations both above and below water." Where else can you witness the spectacle of over 1 million albatross nests packed into just 1400 acres?

Wayne Sentman is leading 8 expeditions to Midway in 2010 for the marine conservation non-profit Oceanic Society and we highly recommend his tours. Check out his blog!

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