Plastic pollution is already known to affect even the most remote places on Earth, and to spread across our oceans or even in the Arctic waters. Now, scientists discovered a formerly pristine island that fell victim to an accumulation of human-related trash.
Henderson Island is situated in the South Pacific, some 3,000 miles from anywhere, New Zealand being its closest neighbor. The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was long considered “one of the most pristine islands left in the world”. Humans have never inhabited it, and the few that reached it usually came for research purposes.
This is according to Jennifer Lavers, a marine ecotoxicologist part of the University of Tasmania. Together with fellow researchers, she journeyed to this remote and pristine island back in May 2015.
The scientists set out to conduct ecology research on the island. In the months spent on Henderson, they saw no other boats besides their own return ticket. The team was picked up in August 2016. However, the team’s study results were far from optimistic.
Henderson, a Formerly Pristine Island, Now a Landfill
The researchers found more than the expected nesting sea turtles and endangered petrels on Henderson. They also reportedly discovered about 37,661,395 pieces of human-made trash. According to their statement, the team dug up a startling quantity of debris as they were carrying out their beach survey.
Alexander Bond, a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds conservation scientist, and Lavers calculated the most likely total amount of debris on the island. Which led them to believe that Henderson now holds the highest density of human-made trash reported in nature to date.
Bond and Lavers’s calculations estimate that the island is littered with over 17.6 tons of trash. Most of its are plastic masses. This numbers would mean that every square meter of Henderson gets filled by 27 new pieces of trash on a daily basis.
“The human footprint is everywhere, and it runs deeper than most of us imagine,” said Lavers. “[…], Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale.”
Together with her fellow researchers, she concluded that Henderson Island has unintentionally become one of Earth’s landfills. This may also help account for some of the “missing” plastic masses. Study results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
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