Midway Atoll, once famous for the Battle of Midway in the Pacific Combat Theatre of World War II, is a 2.4-square-mile island in the Hawaii-Emperor island chain. It lies 2,800 miles west of San Francisco, California, an oasis once far removed from civilization’s callousness.
But beginning in 1871, when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company blasted and dredged a shipping route through the atoll’s fragile coral reef, Midway Atoll has been changing under the sledgehammer of man. Although mostly abandoned since the end of the Korean War, Midway has never strayed far from the influence of cities thousands of miles distant.
Photographer Chris Jordan journeyed to Midway on behalf of its true lifelong residents: albatrosses. These magnificent seabirds mate for life, reproduce once a year or less, and may fly up to 6,000 miles to find food for their young. Some never touch land for five years. Midway Atoll is the global asylum for the black-footed albatross, the laysan albatross, the great albatross, and other seabird species. Over three million birds call the island home.
But the island is positioned at the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an ocean-wide whirlpool where trash from around the globe comes and does not leave. More than 20 tons of debris wash up on Midway’s shores every year. Albatross parents unknowingly feed more than five tons of that trash to their brown, downy chicks.
Photographer Jordan records the carnage in “Midway: A Message from the Grye,” slicing open birds, young and old, crammed like stuffed Thanksgiving turkeys with bottle caps, fishing line, military helmets and other cast-offs. The albatrosses are dying faster than they can reproduce. Long after the birds have decomposed, show the pictures, the bottle caps remain – and, hopefully, will Jordan’s testimony.