The beaches on a remote, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean have the highest amount of plastic debris in the world.
Researchers from the University of Tasmania say Henderson Island, which is more than 5,000 kilometer from any major population center, is strewn with roughly 37.7 million pieces of plastic waste.
Put another way, the beaches on Henderson Island are covered with about 671 pieces of plastic litter per square meter, which researchers say is 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,” said Jennifer Lavers of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and lead author of a paper about the pollution in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Henderson Island, which is part of the UK’s Pitcairn Islands territory, sits right in the middle of the Pacific Gyre current, which makes it a “focal point” for garbage from South America as well as from fishing boats.
Researchers say their sampling of the debris at five sites on the island leads them to believe there is more than 17 tons of plastic on the island and around 3,570 new pieces of litter being deposited every day.
Lavers noted, “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 down to a depth of 10 centimeters, and we were unable to sample along cliffs and rocky coastline.”
Every year, the world produces some 300 million tons of plastic, much of which is not recycled. Plastic disintegrates very slowly, and when it ends up floating in the ocean, it can lead to “entanglement and ingestion” by animals, birds and fish.
“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,” Lavers said.