The Poets’ Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has put on nearly 50 performances of its show Albatross, based on “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Ocean Conservancy supports efforts to protect all marine life, including sea birds like the albatross, so a partnership with The Poets’ Theater seemed natural. We even have an albatross in our logo!
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that tells the tale of a lost sailor and his crew who are helped out of the Antarctic by an albatross. Despite the aid, the mariner kills the giant bird. The mariner then loses his entire crew, suffers great storms, and even faces manifestations of death as punishment for his crime against nature. The mariner is cursed to forever tell his tale as warning to others. Albatross follows the immortal mariner’s travels 300 years later in the year 2015.
Midway Atoll is truly “out there.” The closet population center is Honolulu, 1,200 miles to the southeast and a five-hour trip by plane. But despite its remoteness, Midway is not immune to the impacts of plastic debris.
Midway’s central position in the North Pacific Gyre makes it a sink for debris, which results in immense, daily accumulations on the island’s sandy beaches. This collection of debris—almost entirely plastics—threatens the endangered monk seals and sea turtles that inhabit Midway’s beaches and forage in the atoll’s shallow waters. Plastics that threaten the 1.5 million Laysan albatross on Midway, however, arrive in a different manner.
Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.
The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”
How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.
Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.
But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”