Plastic Power!

Song produced and performed by Lewis Lolya (lyrics and music adapted from Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett)

Lyrics

I’m a seabird nesting on an isle
that you stained with plastic power
Your precious merchandise from factories far away

When the chemical dreams that we all seem to keep
drift on beaches where we sleep
our heart is beating in factories far away

So, call the colony from the beach
Our wings are all washed up in bleach
the waves are crying polyethylene tears
And nobody knows where to go from the heat
with plastic slicing up our feet, the seas are rising for this time of year

I got a feeling now my heart is broken
All these eats that I have chosen
rumbling in my stomach and in my soul
I pray, my wings are unmovable
Yeah clinging to this ocean shoal
Seasons seas, the adjustments, fateful change
I can’t see now my eyes are hazy
have you been out to my beach lately
The storms wash strange things beneath our feet

I’m a seabird nesting on an isle
That you stained with plastic power
Your precious merchandise from factories far away

Albatross fly over the beach
Same time every day, same routine
Clear eyes in the summer, their skies are blue
but It’s part of the noise when plastic comes
It reverberates in their lungs
Nature’s corrupted in factories far away

The seas are rising for this time of hear

Our hearts are beating in factories far away    X2

 

Lyrics Meaning 

Even the most remote corners of the world are not spared by the human footprint. One would think that a place like Midway Atoll or Laysan Island, hundreds of miles from the nearest human civilization, would be unspoiled paradises. These islands are home to vast colonies of seabirds of several amazing species. Some of the longest lived birds, the Albatross, call these islands home. Naturally free from predators, they certainly were what one would consider a paradise. But if one steps foot on these island, you may be in for a stomach churning surprise.

The pacific ocean garbage patch, a vast cyclone of plastic and discarded human products, swirls like a fantastic polyethylene sea-monster. This conglomeration of garbage, larger than the size of Texas,  is one of the most visually striking examples of the pollution we tend to ignore, but excessively create. Much of the garbage we throw away ends up in our oceans, where the currents and tides carry it to far away lands. Although the islands of Midway and Laysan are seemingly untouchable by the human hand, they have ended up being the poster child for the often unseen effects of plastic pollution. Like many other similar pacific islands and beaches, plastics of different shapes, colors and varieties festoon the once-pure sand. Certainly, the plastic debris have made these landscapes visually unappealing. However, some of the more insidious problems occur when wildlife and plastic pollution meet face to face. Seabird and many other forms of marine life ingest plastics found on beaches and in the ocean. Many confuse these oddly shaped plastics for natural food, or simply ingest them incidentally. Seabirds in particular, like the long lived albatross, are facing the worst effects from the ingestion of oceanic plastics (Pettit et al., 1981)

Ingestion of plastics can harm seabirds in several ways (Azzarello & Van Vleet, 1987). The most common cause of death by ingested plastics is the physical blockage of sections of the digestive system. Obstructions can usually occur in the intestines and the proventricular pathway. Often, Procellariforms are unable to regurgitate accidentally ingested plastics because their gizzard size is too small. Therefore, plastics can accumulate for long periods of time until digestive function slows or ceases.  Post mortem analysis of seabirds that died of plastic ingestion reveal that many had lacerations on the lining on several parts or their digestive system. Furthermore, the presence of non-food items in the gizzard and stomach of birds may lower their hormonal ability to regulate their hunger sensation and feeding activity levels (Sturkie, 1965). Stimuli processed by the central nervous system relay signals to the hypothalamus gland, which in turn control the hunger and feeding activity response in birds. The muscular contractions of an empty stomach are one of the main triggers for hormonal hunger control. When large quantities of plastic stay in the stomach, the sensation of fullness prevents the hypothalamus from initiating a feeding response. The birds end up starving themselves on a complete and balanced diet of plastic (Sturkie, 1965)

Plastic does get partially digested when stored in the stomach for a long duration (Peakall, 1970). Harmful trace chemicals such as DDT, DDE, and PCB’s, which are known endocrine disruptors, will be absorbed by the gastrointestinal system of the bird. Some effects of this include delayed ovulation, impaired reproductive success, and lowered sex steroid levels (Peakall  1970). Tanaka et al., (2013) analyzed polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in the stomach adipose tissues of some seabird species. The researches found significantly higher concentration of these chemicals than normal, which suggests that plastic chemicals are getting synthesized into the body tissues from ingested plastics particles, which may lead to many physiological impairments.

Several other adverse effects exist in seabirds that ingest large quantities of plastics. The fat content of migratory phalaropes decreased with the relative presence of plastic particles in the digestive tract, suggesting inhibition of proper nutrition. For migratory birds, the inability to refuel properly can be devastating; lowering survivorship, flight range capabilities, and breeding success rates (Connors & Smith, 1982). Even remote areas far from the source of these plastics are sometimes seeing the worst effects of plastic pollution.

 

What can you do?

There are simple ways that you can help reduce the impact of plastics on the environment. Reduce, reuse, and recycle all materials that you make or purchase. Opt for utilizing biodegradable containers or no packaging materials at all. Avoid purchasing items that are packaged in multiple layers of plastics. Many of the plastic bags and packaging that is malleable is non-recyclable and provides little in the way of alternative uses. However, what do we do with the plastics already in our environment? Several companies and engineers have developed methods of removing large quantities of plastics from out oceans. Methods like ocean rakes and ocean vacuums are being tested in polluted areas. On a large scale, these techniques can have a huge impact on cleaning our oceans and saving our seabirds.

Long live the albatross!

 

Literature Cited

Auman HJ, Ludwig JP, Giesy JP, Colborn TH. (1997) Plastic ingestion by Laysan albatross chicks on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, in 1994 and 1995. Albatross biology and conservation. 239244.

Azzarello MY, Van Vleet ES. (1987) Marine birds and plastic pollution. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 37:295-303.

Connors PG, Smith KG. (1982) Oceanic plastic particle pollution: suspected effect on fat deposition in red phalaropes. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 13(1):18-20.

Peakall DB. (1970) p, p’-DDT: Effect on calcium metabolism and concentration of estradiol in the blood. Science. 168(3931):592-4.

Pettit TN, Grant GS, Whittow GC. (1981) Ingestion of plastics by Laysan albatross. The Auk. 98(4):839-41.

Sturkie PD, editor. (2002) Avian physiology. Springer Science & Business Media

Tanaka K, Takada H, Yamashita R, Mizukawa K, Fukuwaka MA, Watanuki Y (2013) Accumulation of plastic-derived chemicals in tissues of seabirds ingesting marine plastics. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 69(1):219-22.

 

Photo Credit (in order of appearance)

Tristan Savatier

Kim Starr

Frans Lanting

Jeff Dunst

The scientific fisherman

Frans Lanting

Chris Jordan

Serje Takao

 

 

 

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