Midway Atoll: Plastic Island

Colleen Noah, Writer

Midway Atoll is a small island that exists in the Pacific Ocean which is considered the most protected/controlled piece of land in the United States. The island has half a million acres of submerged reef and can only be accessed by plane, only if granted permission.

The only problem is, the island is polluted with so much trash and plastic. The plastic is, of course, from people’s old thrown-out items. These items float across thousands of miles in the ocean and end up on the island. According to CNN, in 1999, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) picked up 125 metric tons of garbage from the island. Despite the amount of garbage collected, plastic and floating trash still crowds the shore line of Midway Atoll.

Most of the plastic waste comes from Asia and ends up in the ocean. The waste gets caught up in the ocean’s current and travels in a line with other garbage, this line called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. And Midway Atoll sits right in the middle of the patch, collecting all the plastic that are carried by the ocean’s currents. So regardless of how much trash is collected and properly thrown out, more plastic is still going to wash up.

Midway Atoll is a home to many sea birds, it was perfect because there are little to no predators who live on the island. But, at this point, plastic waste could be considered the predator. Birds who live on the island need to feed their young, and the colors of some plastic products are similar to the colors of their prey. Plastic is in their systems and then fed to their young. So many carcasses now line the beaches, and after all of their body decomposes, all that is left is plastic. From CNN, US Fish and Wildlife Service Superintendent, Matthew Brown, says, “Every year albatross adults bring five tons of plastic back to midway along with the food they’re trying to feed their chicks”

Plastic takes decades to break down, but there are still a lot of micro particles of plastic floating in the water. These plastics tend to soak up any unwanted chemicals, and fish end up consuming these particles. Not only is this affecting the wildlife, but it is affecting humans as well. Sea food is now polluted with plastics that we end up throwing away, and without knowing, people consume that plastic in their food.

Midway Atoll, a historic WWII monument, has been heavily polluted and it seems like there’s no way to end it. The waters around the island seem like a soup of plastic and Styrofoam that slowly breakdown and harm the wildlife creatures. And the shoreline is dotted with plastic bottles, old toothbrushes, and other forms of plastic waste. Though most of the garbage has come from Asia, we are all a contributing factor. And though some may get rid of trash correctly, the way it is handled causes trash to crowd this island. Hopefully the amount of trash will reduce, but even though tons were taken off the island, more still goes on. A clean Midway Atoll is a goal that seems so far out of reach.


Plastic Island:How our throwaway culture is turning paradise into a graveyard. Narrated by Nick Paton Walsh, produced by Ingrid Formanek, Jackson Loo, and Mark Phillips, CNN, 2016.