Save Island Wildlife from Toxic Waste

Tern Island garbage

Target: Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator

Goal: Demand that Tern Island, home to rare wildlife and a toxic legacy of environmental abuse, receive the resources to clean up hazardous pollution.

Tern Island is tiny, just 25 acres of land in the remote North Pacific. But for threatened monk seals, sea turtles, and diverse sea birds, the island is home. This wildlife is currently threatened by toxic waste: buried contaminants from the island’s U.S. military facilities, recently exposed by rough weather, are being absorbed by bits of plastic that constantly wash up on Tern Island’s beaches.

A bad storm in 2012 damaged the seawall protecting a landfill on the island, exposing old electrical equipment and other industrial waste. Off Tern Island’s shores, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch swirls where currents gather debris from across thousands of miles of ocean…and deposits a hefty amount on the tiny island. Plastic trash is indigestible by the island’s wildlife, but readily absorbs dangerous chemicals. Monk seals have been found contaminated with toxic compounds like polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and other cancer-causing chemicals that may have originated from the landfill.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to study pollution and its impact on Tern Island because of the island’s unique situation. A Superfund site designation by the EPA could follow, and would mean increased resources for a cleanup. It would make Tern Island the first Superfund site so designated specifically because of plastic pollution. The Center for Biological Diversity recently said in a press release that “Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles and seabirds beyond number are hurt and killed by the thousands of pounds of waste littering this beautiful island. We have to take action now.” Tell the EPA that Tern Island must be protected, and must be declared a Superfund site.


Dear Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator,

I applaud the EPA’s recent commitment to study the impacts of pollution on Tern Island. The combination of toxic, industrial waste chemicals and plastic debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch pose real dangers to the island’s wildlife.

The EPA must act to protect this island both because it falls within the agency’s jurisdiction, and because of the island’s toxic legacy. Much of the waste threatening the island is the result of U.S. military facilities and their lingering garbage. Dangerous PCBs and other carcinogens have been observed in the island’s rare monk seal population.

Your research at Tern Island can improve our understanding of the dangers industrial pollution, and specifically plastic waste, poses to threatened wildlife. But do not let your work there end without designating Tern Island a Superfund site, and committing to its restoration.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Duncan Wright via Wikimedia

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