The remote island, Henderson Island, off the coast of South America and part of the Pitcairn Group, has the highest level of plastic pollution in the world. Henderson Island, listed as a World Heritage site, has almost 40 million pieces of plastic that weigh nearly 18 tons. The study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), said that the island accumulation of plastic was rapid, giving the tiny island the dubious distinction of having the most used plastic garbage in the world.
Henderson Island is uninhabited and sits in the south Pacific Ocean. It was formerly known as San Juan Bautista and Elizabeth Island. The island had one of two raised coral atolls that were unaffected by human contact, until now. It is six miles by three miles with an area of 14 square miles. Henderson Island is about 120 miles northeast of Pitcairn Island. It was annexed in 1902 and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1988.
Jennifer Lavers, a researcher, said to ABC, that Henderson Island was “alarming.” She considered the situation to be a “wake-up call to the world that plastic pollution” is just as dangerous to humanity as climate change. With the increased production of plastic, the estimated number of plastic items is “five trillion” and can be found in all oceans. Lavers, a conservation biologist at the University of Tasmania, surveyed Henderson Island’s North and East Beach for three months. There was so much plastic garbage on the beach that it took her team of five, almost six hours to survey the small beach.
Most of the plastic garbage on the beaches were everyday items such as water bottles, cigarette lighters, plastic razors, and toothbrushes. These “single-use” items can be found “still floating around” currently and for many “decades to come,” Lavers said to ABC. While the estimates for the plastic garbage seemed alarmingly high, they were called “conservative” because this did not include items buried in cliffs or other sections. Plastic pollution is not only harmful to the animal wildlife but humans as well because of the toxicity of the plastic in the food chain.
To combat plastic pollution, Lavers would like to see a “broad, sweeping education campaign and societal change, driven by public demand.” The study published in PNAS said that the number of species interacting with plastic has increased from 49 percent to 55 percent and the numbers are only increasing.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Google Earth