The Chicks Aren’t All Right


The tens of thousands of albatross chicks who have been sickened or killed by lead-based paint can’t exactly walk into a courtroom and stand up for themselves – so an environmental group is doing it for them.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clean up lead-contaminated paint on buildings at a former U.S. Navy base on the Midway atoll, which is the most important breeding site for the Laysan albatross.

Up to 10,000 chicks are killed each year by lead poisoning, says the center, citing a study published last October. Many more albatross chicks are affected by neurological conditions like “˜droopwing’, in which the chick is no longer able to lift its wings. This condition, which makes flying impossible, often causes the affected chicks to die of starvation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took over responsibility for the Midway atoll, located near Hawaii, in 1996. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, FWS stopped maintaining 95 military buildings coated with layers of lead-based paint which are now chipping off and being eaten by the chicks.

In fact, confused albatross parents even feed such inedible debris to their chicks. Photographer Chris Jordan documented the consequences of this unfortunate habit in a series of troubling images depicting albatross remains filled with bits of plastic. The shocking photos illustrate the effects that human civilization can have upon the natural world.

The center alleges that in failing to clean up the lead paint, the Fish and Wildlife Service is violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Endangered Species Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery. The Laysan albatross is listed as a “vulnerable species” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Image: Kristin McCully/Midway Coral Reef

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.