Uninhabited island littered with more than 17 tonnes of rubbish
by Hebe Hatton
A desert island located at the heart of the South Pacific Ocean should be a far-flung natural paradise. However, after a recent expedition to Henderson Island, it was discovered that it is actually one of the most highly polluted islands in the world.
Henderson Island sits halfway between New Zealand and Chile. It is completely uninhabited and it is only visited once every five years for research purposes.
Despite this, it transpires that the small landmass is now one of the most densely polluted areas in the world, with an estimated 38 million pieces of rubbish covering its beaches.
On the scientific expedition conducted by the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies and British charity the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), it was found that the level of debris amounts to approximately 671 items per square metre and totals 17.6 tonnes.
Dr Jennifer Lavers, from the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), who led the exhibition, said in a post on the IMAS news page: “What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans.
“Far from being the pristine ‘deserted island’ that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale.”
In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Dr Lavers and colleague Alexander Bond said: “The density of debris was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, suggesting that remote islands close to oceanic plastic accumulation zones act as important sinks for some of the waste accumulated in these areas.”
The island’s location near the centre of the South Pacific Gyre ocean current makes it a focal point for debris carried from South America. The current acts like a conveyor belt, depositing more than 13,570 new pieces of litter onto the beaches every day.
Part of the UK’s Pitcairn Islands territory, the island is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the only coral atolls in the world that remains uninhabited by humans.
Plastic in our oceans is a topic that has been coming to the forefront of the public eye more in recent years – A Plastic Ocean was released late last year to raise awareness and there are a number of gadgets helping to save the oceans, the most prominent of which is the Seabin, which works by sucking water through a natural fibre bag attached to a floating dock.