An uninhabited South Pacific Ocean island is home to the world’s highest-density plastic waste collection, a newly-published study reports.
Plastic waste levels per square metre on Henderson Island are beyond those found anywhere else on the planet, the study’s compilers write.
No less than 37.7 million items of debris are thought to have amassed on the island’s beaches. That equates to 671 items within every square metre, with a combined weight of 17.6 tonnes.
The research team hopes its findings encourage – if not make – people “rethink their relationship with plastic.”
Henderson Island Debris
This was a combined British-Australian study and the lead researcher involved was the University of Tasmania’s Dr Jennifer Lavers. “Based on our sampling at five sites, we estimated that more than 17 tons of plastic debris has been deposited on the island, with more than 3,570 new pieces of litter washing up each day on one beach alone”, she explains, although the full extent of beach debris is probably worse still.
The South Pacific Gyre strongly influences Henderson Island’s waste build-up. This is the ocean current that sweeps in trash from passing ships and land and it’s now firmly thought to be playing a large part in the island’s decline.
"It's likely”, Lavers says, “that our data actually underestimates the true amount of debris on Henderson Island as we were only able to sample pieces bigger than two millimetres down to a depth of 10 centimetres and we were unable to sample along cliffs and rocky coastline."
Island Waste Study
Among the world’s remotest locations, Henderson Island is positioned 5,000-plus kilometres away from the nearest major landmass. Part of the Pitcairn islands, it’s 37.3 square kilometres in size and has been a UN World Heritage site since 1988.
"What's happened on Henderson Island shows there's no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans," adds Lavers. "Far from being the pristine 'deserted island' that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale."
Lavers et al’s Henderson island waste study appears in ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.’
YouTube video: East Beach, Henderson Island. Credit: Jennifer Lavers, courtesy University of Tasmania