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CM SP19 Web, 5-19

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There's no debate: Midway Atoll is a refuge choked with refuse. Out of sight, and too often out of mind, a phenomenon known as the Pacific Trash Vortex spins a massive collection of plastic and floating debris onto these once-pristine shores. "Seeing what our over-consumption of plastic is doing to our oceans was so sobering," Loomis says. "I knew it would be bad, but I had no idea how graphic it would be. We were in the middle of nowhere, and everywhere we looked there was plastic." On Day 1 of orientation, team lead- ers showed Loomis how to do laundry. The first task? Make a beeline to the beach to select a laundry basket. The amount of plastic washed ashore here is staggering, and it includes wayward laundry bins. "It's unsettling," Loomis says. Such large items, how- ever, are not the biggest problem, for at least they can be collected. Microplastics, degraded over time, represent the most profound threat. According to Greenpeace, nine of every 10 seabirds have ingested plastic, and marine plastic pollution kills 1 million seabirds each year. On Midway, albatross chicks routinely die from ingesting plastic, provid- ed by parents who forage at sea before regurgitating into the mouths of hungry nestlings. Laboring each day in her sandshoes (ingenious plywood footwear designed to help counters avoid collapsing bur- rows of nesting birds), Loomis came across many dead adult seabirds grotesquely decayed around toxic pieces of colorful plastic—beads, but- tons, domino game pieces, cigarette lighters—that they mistook for food. Loomis has always found seabirds fascinating. She serves as a volunteer naturalist with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, as well as a field observer to monitor and protect nesting black oystercatchers in Monterey Bay. But nothing inspired her quite like meeting the Monterey Bay Aquarium's resident Laysan albatross Makana. It ignited in her a passion for 176 C A R M E L M A G A Z I N E • S P R I N G / S U M M E R 2 0 1 9 Documenting the albatross population provides a clearer picture of the state of our oceans and the ravages of climate change and pollution. (Photos on this page and next) Plastic pollution kills 1 million seabirds each year. On Midway, tons of plastic washes ashore, and birds like the Laysan albatross adapt by incorporating it into their nests. Tragically, they also ingest this toxic trash.

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