By Kacey Deamer
15 May 2017

(Live Science) – A tiny, uninhabited piece of land in the South Pacific Ocean, called Henderson Island, is considered one of the most remote islands in the world. But now, researchers say it has earned a much more worrisome new title: the world's most polluted island.

Henderson Island is so remote thatit's visited only every five to 10 years, for research purposes, and is listed as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). But this isolation from humanity has not prevented the island's beaches from becoming filled with trash. In a new study, researchers estimate that 37.7 million pieces of plastic — amounting to 17 tons of plastic debris — litter the beaches of Henderson Island.

With as many as 671 pieces of debris per square meter (about 62 pieces per square foot), Henderson Island has the densest plastic pollution ever recorded anywhere on Earth, the researchers said. [In Photos: World's 10 Most Polluted Places]

The island sits near the center of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current, which means litter from South America or debris dropped by fishing boats culminates at the island.

"Far from being the pristine 'deserted island' that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale," study lead author Jennifer Lavers, a researcher at the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), said in a statement. [more]

One of the World's Most Remote Islands Is Also the Most Polluted


(A) Plastic debris on East Beach of Henderson Island. Much of this debris originated from fishing-related activities or land-based sources in China, Japan, and Chile (Table S5). (B) Plastic items recorded in a daily accumulation transect along the high tide line of North Beach. (C) Adult female green turtle (Chelonia mydas) entangled in fishing line on North Beach. (D) One of many hundreds of purple hermit crabs (Coenobita spinosa) that make their homes in plastic containers washed up on North Beach. Photo: Lavers and Bond, 2017 / PNAS

15 May 2017 (Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies) – The beaches of one of the world’s most remote islands have been found to be polluted with the highest density of plastic debris reported anywhere on the planet, in a study published in the prestigious US scientific journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Despite being uninhabited and located more than 5000 kilometres from the nearest major population centre, Henderson Island is littered with an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic.

Part of the UK’s Pitcairn Islands territory, the island is so remote that it’s only visited every five to ten years for research purposes, but its location near the centre of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current makes it a focal point for debris carried from South America or deposited by fishing boats.

During the most recent scientific expedition to the island led by the British nature conservation charity RSPB, the study’s lead author, IMAS researcher Dr Jennifer Lavers, found the beaches littered by up to 671 items per square metre, the highest density ever recorded.

“What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans,” Dr Lavers said.

“Far from being the pristine ‘deserted island’ that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale.

“Based on our sampling at five sites we estimated that more than 17 tonnes of plastic debris has been deposited on the island, with more than 3570 new pieces of litter washing up each day on one beach alone.

“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 millimetres down to a depth of 10 centimetres, and we were unable to sample along cliffs and rocky coastline.”

Dr Lavers said most of the more than 300 million tonnes of plastic produced worldwide each year is not recycled, and as it’s buoyant and durable it has a long-term impact on the ocean.

“Plastic debris is an entanglement and ingestion hazard for many species, creates a physical barrier on beaches to animals such as sea turtles, and 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 per cent of the world’s seabirds, including two species found on Henderson Island, are at risk from marine debris,” Dr Lavers said.

No escaping ocean plastic: 37 million bits of litter on one of world’s remotest islands


ABSTRACT: In just over half a century plastic products have revolutionized human society and have infiltrated terrestrial and marine environments in every corner of the globe. The hazard plastic debris poses to biodiversity is well established, but mitigation and planning are often hampered by a lack of quantitative data on accumulation patterns. Here we document the amount of debris and rate of accumulation on Henderson Island, a remote, uninhabited island in the South Pacific. The density of debris was the highest reported anywhere in the world, up to 671.6 items/m2 (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2) on the surface of the beaches. Approximately 68% of debris (up to 4,496.9 pieces/m2) on the beach was buried <10 cm in the sediment. An estimated 37.7 million debris items weighing a total of 17.6 tons are currently present on Henderson, with up to 26.8 new items/m accumulating daily. Rarely visited by humans, Henderson Island and other remote islands may be sinks for some of the world’s increasing volume of waste.

SIGNIFICANCE: The isolation of remote islands has, until recently, afforded protection from most human activities. However, society’s increasing desire for plastic products has resulted in plastic becoming ubiquitous in the marine environment, where it persists for decades. We provide a comprehensive analysis of the quantity and source of beach-washed plastic debris on one of the world’s remotest islands. The density of debris was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, suggesting that remote islands close to oceanic plastic accumulation zones act as important sinks for some of the waste accumulated in these areas. As global plastic production continues to increase exponentially, it will further impact the exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity for which remote islands have been recognized.

Exceptional and rapid accumulation of anthropogenic debris on one of the world’s most remote and pristine islands

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