Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
By Emily Persico
Henderson Island is a tiny speck in the middle of the South Pacific, floating somewhere between New Zealand and Chile. This remote island has a total population of zero. It is one of the world’s largest marine reserves and a UN World Heritage site. And it’s covered with trash.
While UNESCO’s website describes Henderson Island as “practically untouched by human presence,” Jennifer Lavers told reporters that the island has the highest concentration of trash ever recorded anywhere on earth. She described the 18 tons of plastic her and her team found as “truly alarming,” and said that it was also, astoundingly, an underestimate.
“…Items buried 10 cm below the surface and particles less than 2 mm and debris along cliff areas and rocky coastlines could not be sampled,” explained the authors of the study that examined the vast accumulation of trash on the island.
Lavers is a scientist at Australia’s University of Tasmania and one of the co-authors of this study. She and biologist Alexander Bond decided to stay at the island for three straight months to better understand what was going on.
During their lonely stay, Lavers and Bond counted 38 million pieces of trash which were accumulating on the island at a rate of approximately 3,500 pieces a day. This trash was spit out straight from the South Pacific Gyre and originated from Russia, the United States, South America, Japan, Europe, and China.
This once idyllic island is now drenched in the world’s culture of waste. But the 18 tons of trash found on this tiny island is just a small piece of the world’s garbage troubles. According to Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia, people are responsible for 8 million tons of trash each year flowing directly into the ocean.
“One of the most striking moments to me while working in the field was when I was in the Canary Islands watching microplastic being brought onto the shore with each waves,” says Jambeck. “There was an overwhelming moment of ‘what are we doing?’”
Eight million tons, a number so large, is tough to visualize. Enric Sala, a marine scientist with experience in the area, explains just what this means.
“There are no remote islands anymore,” he says. “We have turned the ocean into a plastic soup.”
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