LORD HOWE ISLAND
Lord Howe Island Residency - April 2019
Lord Howe is a remote island more than 600 kilometres east of Australia, and home to one of the largest colonies of Flesh-Footed Shearwaters. These seabirds are starving to death with their stomachs so full of plastic there is no room for food. Parent birds head out to sea and dive for small fish and squid to feed their young, but end up coming back with plastic, as they have “no ability to detect plastic from non-plastic, so they eat it."
A team of marine biologists led by Dr Jennifer Lavers, from the University of Tasmania, dedicate their time, effort, and research to find out more to try to save the birds. Capturing hundreds of chicks in the colony as they leave their nests from burrows under the ground, the team physically flush plastic from their stomachs in order to give them a chance to survive.
“The first few days I spent in the shearwater colony I was silent. I had read the research and seen the birds being flushed (lavage) on the film ‘Drowning in Plastic’, I was ready - or so I thought - but this preparation was no substitute for actually being there. The scientists asked me if I was alright? - of course - I had real food in my stomach, but how could this be alright? – magnificent wild creatures almost secretly hidden from the outside world by a canopy of trees, struggling for their last breath, and dying in my own hands. What did they ever do wrong? - How could I ever make work that will make people feel the way I do now.
One of the birds found dead at the roadside was taken back to the lab for analysis. The scientists could feel that the bird’s stomach was heavily impacted with plastic - they knew something that I didn’t. We all stood in total silence, apart from the single voice that counted the pieces of plastic as they were taken out of the bird’s stomach one by one. In total 128 pieces of plastic were removed from this bird’s stomach, simply laid bare on kitchen roll for all to see - but there were only 7 of us in the room, when this is something the whole world should see... Whilst the quantity was shocking enough, the size and sharpness of some of the plastic pieces was unimaginable, to think that the bird had physically swallowed such huge jagged shards of plastic. The plastic removed from this particular bird was more than 10% of its overall body mass.
I shadowed the scientists for 2 weeks and then left – unlike many of the Shearwaters I held. But now, having returned home, I feel I have witnessed a crime. It is now my responsibility, as an artist, to make the public aware of yet another critical issue concerning the detrimental effects of marine plastic pollution”.
NEW WORK IN PROGRESS
Supported by the National Geographic Society - Grant for Research & Exploration
Many thanks to scientists; Dr Jennifer Lavers, Dr Alex Bond, and Dr Ian Hutton, research students Peter Puskic, and Megan Grant.
Also for the generous support of Penny Clive and Detached Cultural Organisation who make this vital research possible.
Thank you to Fotografiska for their support in creating a film about my experience and work on the island, and to the filmmaker Palle Lindqvist.
The film is currently being shown at my exhibition ‘Sea of Artifacts’ at Fotografiska, Stockholm, Sweden, which will then travel to other venues over the next 2 years.