Henderson Island: Pacific graveyard for plastic pollution

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By Alasdair Sandford
Henderson Island: Pacific graveyard for plastic pollution

At first sight the scenes could be mistaken for the aftermath of a teenagers’ beach party.

It is in fact an uninhabited island, one of the most remote in the world, and only visited every few years.

Henderson Island in the South Pacific is now being tagged the world’s most polluted: a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows it has getting on for forty million pieces of plastic.

Its vulnerability to the South Pacific Gyre ocean current means trash from South America or fishing boats washes up on this island, 5,000 kilometres from Chile.

Australian scientists say they discovered Henderson’s idyllic beaches littered with about 37.7 million pieces of plastic during an investigation in 2015.

“The top offenders on the beach were by and large everyday consumer items that most people don’t really hesitate when they use them to think about what it really means and where they might end up,” said Dr Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. “Global estimates of plastic on beaches, whether that’s on islands or on the mainland, is likely to be a very significant underestimate of the true scale of the problem.”

Henderson is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British overseas territory. It is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, whose website describes it as “a gem in the Middle of the Pacific” with endemic plants and birds.

There is supposed to be a management protection plan, but there are no details of what it consists of in practice.

Researchers say almost every island, every ocean species is now affected by global waste.