June 27, 2017

Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on Pacific island

17 May 2017, 02:19 | Mildred Bowen

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Henderson Island in the South Pacific is thousands of miles from any major industrial centers or human communities. But it's filled with trash — more than 37 million pieces of it researchers say

Henderson Island, a designated World Heritage Site and part of the Pitcairn islands group, is a raised coral atoll containing several unique plant, bird and gastropod species.

Henderson Island is visited once every five years for research, as its location makes it the ideal spot for marine plastic debris to accumulate. Shockingly, the new research estimates that 37.7 million pieces of plastic-or 17 tons of plastic garbage-are strewn across the island's beaches. They walked along the high tide line, splitting up the beach into transects - 32-foot by 22-foot rectangles where they counted the number of plastic, glass, wood and metal items. "If people don't want ocean plastic pollution to get worse, they need to take this issue up with their politicians", Lavers concluded. "[Henderson Island] is a remarkably attractive and unique place that is suffering immensely at the hands of humans that have never set foot on the island, never even heard its name".

Henderson Island, which is part of the UK's Pitcairn Islands territory, sits right in the middle of the Pacific Gyre current, which makes it a "focal point" for garbage from South America as well as from fishing boats. The density of debris was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, the authors say.

Unfortunately, with global plastic production now standing at more than 300 million tonnes - a six-fold increase since the 1970s - that doesn't look like it will occur any time soon.

Obviously, it wasn't left there by one of the rare human expeditions to the remote island, so how can one of the world's most remote places be the most polluted?

Nevertheless, the horrific figures from Henderson Island put the scale of the world's plastic pollution problem into perspective, when one considers that Henderson is but a minute landmass in a circular current which rotates around an area of ocean approximately twice the size of Australia.

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This is Henderson Island, a tiny, remote island in the South Pacific.

By human standards, Henderson Island is no tropical paradise, with its mountainous terrain and lack of arable land helping to explain why the only major effort to settle it had to be abandoned by Polynesian navigators centuries ago.

Interestingly, the majority of debris (68%) is not visible to the naked eye because it's buried beneath the sand.

The buoyant and durable nature of plastic means it has a long-term impact on the environment, said Dr. Lavers.

She said the finding should act as a warning that plastic pollution is as big a threat as climate change.

Like seabirds and turtles, remote islands serve as sentinels for the health of the wider marine ecosystem, "acting like a sieve or a trap, filtering out the ocean", she said.

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