SYDNEY – The uninhabited island of Henderson, a remote British territory that is part of the Pitcairn archipelago in the South Pacific, has the maximum density of human-generated trash in the world.
There are 18 tons of litter strewn across the island that include fishing nets and floats, glass bottles, lighters, toothbrushes, and plastic containers, made up of “unidentified objects, some measuring just a millimeter,” Jennifer Lavers, from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies of the University of Tasmania, told EFE.
Lavers was part of a study carried out on this island by the United Kingdom-based non-profit, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which reported 671 marine debris per square meter of the island, the highest rate worldwide, according to science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
The report added, around 3,570 waste items arrive on the island daily, despite the Henderson beaches figuring on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
The 37 square kilometer-territory, located over 5,000 km (3,106 miles) from the closest continental land mass, is not easily accessible and teams of scientists arrive only every five or ten years, and yet this has not stopped the waste from arriving from far-off countries, including Japan, China and the United States.
Waste also arrives from countries like Chile, Ecuador and Peru, or countries farther off such as Germany, France, Spain and the UK, end up on the island, discovered in 1606 by a Portuguese.
One of the reasons for this could be Henderson’s proximity to the South Pacific Gyre, a circular ocean current that may be bringing waste from other countries to this island, Lavers said over the telephone.
She predicted plastic pollution in Henderson and on the planet is set to worsen in the future as a result of climate change and global warming.
Many currents will change direction, speed and depth leading to changes in how plastic accumulates in the next few years, exposing newer communities to the same problems, she added.
Lavers urged governments to manage waste better and share relevant know-how with less-developed nations.
Scientists estimate over 300 million tons of plastic was produced globally in 2014, while the corresponding figure in the 1950s was under two million tons.
Non-recycled plastic floats and takes a very long time to disintegrate, putting the more than 200 marine species, including fish, invertebrates, mammals and birds, at risk.
Plastic debris also poses a threat to animals, which get caught in or ingest them, and can end up on the beaches, obstructing the movement of sea turtles.
Twenty-five percent of marine species, according to Lavers, eat plastic, and the figure is rising each day.
Research shows when fish and birds ingest plastics, it releases toxins in their tissues.
“And if we eat seafood thus contaminated, in reality we are eating our own trash,” she remarked.