Tuesday 12 December 2017

38 million bits of plastic found on uninhabited island

Debris on the beach on Henderson Island
Debris on the beach on Henderson Island
A crab uses as shelter a piece of plastic debris on the beach

Nick Perry in Wellington

When researchers travelled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of rubbish washed up on the beaches.

Almost all of the rubbish they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and colour.

The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island's extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognised as a Unesco world heritage site.

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia's University of Tasmania, said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific Gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating rubbish.

"The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming," Ms Lavers said. "It's both beautiful and terrifying."

She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerised by the variety and colours of the plastic that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.

Ms Lavers and six others stayed on the island for three months in 2015 while conducting the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 16 tonnes and more than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches. The most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes.

Irish Independent

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