Tiny uninhabited Pacific isle has 38 million pieces of trash

  • Get News Alerts


When researchers traveled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches.

Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and color.

The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia’s University of Tasmania, was lead author of the report, which was published Tuesday in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.

“The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming,” Lavers told The Associated Press. “It’s both beautiful and terrifying.”

She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerized by the variety and colors of the plastic that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.

Lavers and six others stayed on the island for 3½ months in 2015 while conducting the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tons and that more than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.

Lavers said she noticed green toy soldiers that looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s, as well as red motels from the Monopoly board game.

She said the most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. One of the strangest was a baby pacifier.

She said they found a sea turtle that had died after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab that was living in a cosmetics container.

By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island, which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) long and 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide.

Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.

Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, when she showed up three days late, and she still got married.

Lavers said she is so appalled by the amount of plastic in the oceans that she has taken to using a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush.

“We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic,” she said. “It’s something that’s designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away.”

Melissa Bowen, an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, said that winds and currents in the gyre cause the buildup of plastic items on places like Henderson Island.

“As we get more and more of these types of studies, it is bringing home the reality of plastic in the oceans,” Bowen said.

Comments

More News

Opinion

  • Amendment of Education Act: A betrayal to capable candidates Amendment of Education Act: A betrayal to capable candidates

    Not all, but many of the temporary teachers who have been wishing to become permanent, no doubt, appointed on the basis of their political ideologies. They couldn't succeed in the examinations despite repeated attempts. They carried the bags of those parties during their teaching career.

    Manoj Sapkota

  • The Doklam dilemma The Doklam dilemma

    Being a buffer state between the two giant neighbors, Nepal should conduct its foreign policy vis-à-vis China and India in a very sensitive manner. Nepal has always maintained that it would not allow its soil to be used against any neighbor. At the same time, Nepal should make sure that its own national interests are never compromised.

    Gaurab Shumsher Thapa

Blog

  • The regional integration initiatives & Nepal The regional integration initiatives & Nepal

    For the small landlocked economies, such as Nepal, regional integration is more of a necessity than a policy option. The ideal way forward for Nepal to gain most out of the economic integration would be to identify the key areas in which Nepal could contribute and facilitate the promotion of those sectors.

    Sujan Adhikari

  • Repercussions of extreme materialism through the lens of American history Repercussions of extreme materialism through the lens of American history

    The invaders started embracing community values that helped them evolve from plunderers to freedom fighters. The alliance of the tribes “Iroquois Federate” became the basis for the government system of US that helped resist tyrannical British power for independence.

    Sanjaya Gajurel

Readers Column

  • Traffic Police in Kathmandu

    As busy and hassling as the traffic system in Kathmandu is, the Traffic Police here have to handle an equally strenuous job. Over 1,400 traffic officers in and around the Kathmandu Valley battle against the pestering traffic and air pollution each day.

  • Menstrual taboo outdated

    I have seen my sisters and friends isolated and treated in discriminatory manner during their first menstruation cycle. They were not allowed to look at the sun, to touch water source, flower, fruits, any male family member, nor even hear their voice. The activist may claim the situation has changed and I do agree but still during every month my loved ones turns into untouchables beings.

Popular

Recommended

Suchanapati