Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on Pacific island

Alan Olson
May 17, 2017

However, the extent of plastic pollution on Henderson's beaches was such that the researchers chose to document it, in a study now published in the journal PNAS. The report calculates that around 26.8 new items per square metre wash up along the shoreline - an average of nearly 28,000 individual pieces of debris in total - every day.

Henderson Island, east of Australia, is just 10 kilometers long and five kilometres wide but is littered with more than 37 million pieces of plastic.

The researchers dug down 10 centimeters, which means that estimates do not take into account the plastic buried deeper than that, the small micro-particles, and additional debris along inaccessible cliffs and rocky coastlines. "We don't want our beaches covered in plastic for turtles and so many other reasons". However, despite the rarity of humans on its shores, it is still fast becoming the next trash island.

Near the center of the South Pacific Gyre ocean, Henderson Island has become a magnet for current-borne debris from South America and trash dumped there by passing fishing boats, according the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some 98% of the debris found on Henderson Island is plastic, and packaging information shows that it comes from locations as distant as Japan and Chile, much of it several years old.

That hasn't stopped it from collecting approximately 37.7 million pieces of garbage, which equals more than 17 tonnes.

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ONE of the world's most remote places, an uninhabited coral atoll, is also one of its most polluted.

The island is situated in the middle of a giant garbage patch, where pieces of plastic that have entered the ocean are carried by sea currents and accumulate.

Almost 27 percent of the items were identified of being from South America, which also included beach equipment and fishing gear. Pull Henderson Island up on Google Maps and drag the yellow avatar to the bottom of the eastern beach. "The highest density of plastic I've really seen in the whole of my career", she said. The researchers say that fishing-related activities and land-based sources seem to have produced the majority of the debris.

"Documenting the extent of the problem on one of the most pristine islands left in the world presented an especially unique opportunity to highlight the seriousness and global nature of the plastic pollution issue", Lavers said.

"It's buoyant and durable, it has a long-term impact on the ocean", Lavers said. About 55% of the world's seabird species, and a large number of marine organisms, are known to be at risk from plastic pollution, according to their study.

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

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