Plastic Pollutes Even the Remotest of Islands

24 May

Remote Henderson Island is the most polluted place in the world, according to a team of researchers.

Photo: Shutterstock

Henderson Island is one of the most remote islands in the world. It sits in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, part of the UK’s Pitcairn Islands, more than 3,000 miles from the nearest major population centers.

It’s also the world’s most polluted island.

More than 17 tons of plastic litter the beaches of this uninhabited island, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visited only every five to 10 years for scientific research. With as many as 62 pieces of litter per square foot, Henderson Island has the densest plastic pollution anywhere on earth.

“What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans,” said Dr. Jennifer Lavers of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, a researcher who was part of the most recent expedition to the island. She also said that “more than 3,570 new pieces of litter [are] washing up each day on one beach alone.”

Henderson Island is located near the center of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current, which makes it a focal point for debris carried from South America or deposited by fishing boats.

In this video, Dr. Lavers walks along the beach of Henderson Island, capturing just a small fraction of the plastic pollution on the island.

“It’s likely that our data actually underestimates the true amount of debris on Henderson Island, as we were only able to sample pieces bigger than two millimeters (0.08 inches) down to a depth of 10 centimeters (about 4 inches), and we were unable to sample along cliffs and rocky coastline,” Dr. Lavers said.

Plastic, being buoyant and durable, has a long-term impact on the ocean. For one thing, plastic debris is an entanglement and ingestion hazard for many species. It also creates a physical barrier that makes it hard for animals like sea turtles to get to their nesting locations, and it lowers the diversity of shoreline invertebrates.

“Research has shown that more than 200 species are known to be at risk from eating plastic, and 55 percent of the world’s seabirds, including two species found on Henderson Island, are at risk from marine debris,” said Dr. Lavers.

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