38 million pieces of plastic waste altogether weighing 18 tonnes has spread across the beaches of tiny island in the South Pacific.
Henderson Island measures just five kilometers across, and it sure has a lot of trash for an island with no people living on it. The island is 5,000 kilometers away from the nearest human, so how did it manage to have so much trash?
The accumulation of trash, especially plastic waste, is a problem for the world’s oceans. In fact, there’s a gyre of marine debris in the Northern Pacific called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A lot of the plastics that humanity has dumped into the oceans over the past decades have ended up in this Garbage Patch.
Tracking Plastic Waste
Now, it seems that garbage patches of mostly plastic has also accumulated in the Southern Pacific. It seems that Henderson Island is right at the edge of the Southern Pacific Gyre. Gyres are a type of vortex with circular currents in the air or ocean. There’s still a lot that we don’t know about the Southern Pacific Gyre, but researchers have guessed at the role Henderson Island plays in the gyre. The island is probably a garbage patch sink. It’s basically where the old trash that the gyre spits out ends up eventually.
In 2013, researchers also found that there are about 400,000 plastic particles per square kilometer in the region.
A new study details what other researchers found on the island. Apparently, the plastic waste on the island is probably decades-old. For one thing, the items look quite worn. The researchers also found toys that were popular way back in the 70s. According to the labels on the items, some came from Europe and Asia. Most of the trash, however, came from South America.
Plastic cutlery, bottles, and straws make up the plastic waste on the island. There were also fishing equipment and small bits of plastic.
Because the island is uninhabited and so far away from the nearest inhabited island, no one has come over to clean up. Thus, the trash just piled on the beaches over the years. Researchers say that on average, there are 239 trash items per square meter of the beaches. Only 0.2% of these items are not plastic, but the rest are.
A Solution to the Problem
Piles of trash circulating in the oceans and choking up beaches can be detrimental to animals in different ways. Plastic waste includes microplastics, which fish and marine mammals could and have mistaken for food and consumed. These animals can also get caught in the plastics, especially plastic rings, which can hinder their growth, injure them, or choke them.
The researchers say that the world should produce less plastic to address the problem of plastic waste in our oceans. Of course, we can also do our part as individuals without waiting for legislation or other changes meant to control the production of plastics. We can dispose of waste properly as well as recycle and reuse non-biodegradable wastes. This way, we won’t be contributing to the masses of plastic already floating around in the Pacific.