The remote Pacific island awash with our plastic trash | News | DW | 16.05.2017
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The remote Pacific island awash with our plastic trash

Researchers have found 37.7 million pieces of trash on the beaches of a tiny uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic.

Researchers have documented the world's highest known density of plastic particles, according to an article published in the US's peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists said the nearly 38 million pieces of trash - or 21 to 671 items per square meter (11 square feet) - included toy soldiers, dominoes, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats in an array of shapes, sizes and colors.

"The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming," Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia's University of Tasmania and the lead author of the report, told the Associated Press news agency. "It's both beautiful and terrifying." Lavers said she sometimes found herself being mesmerized by the variety and colors of the rubbish that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.

Ten kilometers by 5 kilometers (6 by 3 miles), Henderson Island, part of Britain's Pitcairn Islands group, sits about halfway between New Zealand and Chile in the Pacific Ocean, about 5,000 kilometers from the nearest landmass. Lavers said the location puts the 3,700-hectare (9,000-acre) island, an UNESCO World Heritage site, at the edge of a vortex of currents known as the South Pacific Gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash, leading to an estimated 3,500 pieces washing up daily on Henderson's shores.

Müll auf Henderson Island (picture-alliance/AP/J. Lavers)

Researchers found as many as 671 pieces of trash per square meter

'Relationship with plastic'

Researchers visit Henderson Island once or twice per decade to explore its biodiversity. Including Lavers, seven scientists stayed there for three and a half months in 2015 while conducting the current study. They found that the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tons, with over two-thirds of it buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.

"We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic," Lavers told The Associated Press. "It's something that's designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away." Lavers said the amount of plastic in the oceans appalled her so much that she now uses both a toothbrush and iPhone carrying case that are made out of bamboo.

Müll auf Henderson Island (picture-alliance/AP/J. Lavers)

Until humans reduce and recycle, this crab will reuse

By clearing a part of a beach and then watching new waste accumulate, Lavers said, the researchers could estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up on the island every day. Lavers said the researchers found a sea turtle that had died after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab who lived in a cosmetics container. Researchers linked about 27 percent of the items to relatively nearby South America, including beach equipment and fishing gear.

mkg/rc (AFP, AP)

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