Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on Pacific island


The study of Henderson Island's world-record debris is detailed in a paper published online today (May 15) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Beaches of Henderson Island, part of the UK's Pitcairn Islands territory in the South Pacific, are littered with an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic.

The research, conducted by Jennifer Lavers from Australia's University of Tasmania and Alexander Bond from Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, found up to 670 items of plastic per square metre on and just under the surface on the island's beaches.

The study estimated more than 17 tonnes of plastic debris had made it to land, with more than 3570 new pieces of rubbish washing ashore per day on one beach alone. But ocean currents bring a steady stream of plastic trash from around the world, from litter swept into storm drains to debris dropped off fishing boats.

"What's happened on Henderson Island shows there's no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans", Lavers said in a media release on Tuesday.

Henderson's once-unspoiled beaches were littered with garbage that included plastic bottles, lollipop sticks, plastic bags, polystyrene, pen lids, drinking straws, glass bottles, plastic razors, cigarette lighters, light bulbs, toothbrushes, plastic cutlery, tons of old fishing equipment, and innumerable bits of other manmade waste.

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Plastic debris on Henderson Island is an major hazard for many species.

Sky News has been urging families to examine how much plastic they use in their lives and whether they can cut as much of it out as possible.

Henderson Island is in an area of the ocean that is rarely traversed and is not near any shipping lanes or fisheries, with no major land-based industrial facilities or cities within 5,000 kilometres.

The problem is compounded as weathered plastic begins to break down, meaning one piece of litter can multiply into many more.

If you extrapolate that statistic, it means the island is home to some 37.7 million pieces of plastic garbage - a far cry from the idyllic, untouched getaway we might imagine Henderson Island to be, given the atoll is completely unpopulated by humans.

In their four-month sojourn on Henderson Island, the researchers had nearly no interaction with people - after all, there are only about 58 of them on the island.

Since humans do not live there, the pollution on Henderson Island has also never been cleaned up. For example, the junk circulating the island has warded off sea turtles attempting to their lay eggs on the beach. Also, pollution along the island's rocky coastline and cliffs has not yet been measured, the researchers said.

Previous research suggests that between 4 million and 12 million tons of plastic make it into the world's oceans each year.

The pile-up threatens marine animals including fish, turtles and seabirds.

"It's not just commercial fisheries or cruise ships", Lavers says.