By Eirik Grønningsæter
A Tristan albatross is taking off from the tussock grass slopes as a southerly gentle breeze is pushed against the cliffs of Tristan de Cunha – a small archipelago in the South Atlantic and currently the only place on the planet this rare bird species breeds. This is his first flight in life and he won’t return to his birth island or any other land before he is sexually mature in about six years from now. In the mean time, he will soar with grace over what seem to us ferocious seas, with his wing tips as gently gliding over the water. These crashing wave crests and rolling swells that scare most people back to shore are this albatross’ source of energy to keep gliding, to keep flying, so he can visit all the corners of the sea. This is where he finds food, and obtains his energy to fly. This is where he will see all his sunsets and sunrises, and where he will learn all the secrets you need to know to live for 80 years. This is where he will find a partner and where he will find love. This is the ocean – this is his home.
The Tristan albatross is a member of the wandering albatross group, and a recent database (Global Seabird Tracking Database) published in the World Seabird Conference held in Cape Town shows that Tristan albatross fly an average of 500km per day. Despite Tristan de Cunha being the only place in the world this species breeds, it uses the whole ocean to live. For a human being standing on a sandy beach in the shade under a coconut palm tree in the Caribbean, the horizon has no end and the ocean might seem endlessly big. Too big to understand. Too big to even think that we can possibly make an impact on what is happening in this infinite blue. The truth is sadly different.
According to World Wide Fund for nature (WWF), we have since 1970 managed to reduce coral reefs by about 50%, and if current trends continue they could all be gone by the year 2050. About 90% of all big fish are gone, and 80% of the world’s fisheries are over exploited or in a state of collapse. There is more plastic than ever before in the oceans. The acidity of the oceans is increasing because of higher CO2 levels, making it more difficult for all life to grow. Increased temperatures turn countless species into climate change refugees. In short – since 1970, we have lost about 50 % of all marine life!
The albatross that took his first flight from Tristan de Cunha didn’t return to his place of birth to breed with a partner. He didn’t fly 500km per day for 80 years as he was supposed to do. Instead he was washed up on a black sandy beach. He made the mistake of confusing a jellyfish with a piece of plastic that was used to carry sweets and was thrown overboard by a kid on the ferry off the coast of New York. A year later that same piece of plastic and the albatross crossed paths in the South Atlantic and it blocked the digestive system of this bird making him starve to death. His 3.5 meters of wings have stretched for the last time.
Humans’ lack of ability to see beyond the horizon has made us treat the ocean as an infinite garbage dump. Out of sight, out of mind. We have already heard the alarm bells for some time. Our oceans are not resistant to human action. Don’t think you are too small to make a difference. Stop throwing plastic into the sea!