Global – It is more than 5000 km removed from civilisation and yet Henderson Island’s beaches are littered with nearly 40 million pieces of plastic. According to a new study, researchers visit this uninhabited land every five to 10 years but a more regular passer-by is the South Pacific current, bringing with it the remnants of a throw-away consumer society.
Up to 17 million tonnes of plastics has washed ashore – equal to 671 items per square metre, the highest density of ocean plastics ever recorded.
The study reveals that more than 3570 new pieces of waste plastics make their way to one of the volcanic island’s beaches every day.
‘Far from being the pristine deserted island that people might imagine, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale,’ says IMAS researcher Dr Jennifer Lavers, who recently oversaw a scientific expedition to the area on behalf of the British nature conservation charity RSPB.
Lavers suggests that, in reality, the scale of the island’s plastics problem is probably far more serious. ‘We were only able to sample pieces bigger than 2 mm down to a depth of 10 cm,’ she comments.
The island’s cliffs and rocky coastline have prevented full mapping of the ocean current’s influence. Most ocean plastics are made up of buoyant, durable packaging such as bags, wrappers and bottles.