UNINHABITED and extremely remote, Henderson Island in the South Pacific Ocean has been found to have the highest density of plastic debris on the planet by a scientific study published this week.
Almost 40 percent of the rubbish, the study says, was identified as coming from China and Japan alone.
Some 37.7 million pieces of debris have washed up on the island’s beaches, of which 99.8 percent is plastic. Henderson Island is a UK territory more than 5,000km from the nearest major land mass, which Unesco has listed for its “outstanding universal value.”
In analysing the rubbish, scientists found that China and Japan were the most common countries of origin for identifiable objects at 18.2 percent and 18.1 percent, respectively. They were followed by Chile – which is much more closely located geographically – at 12.5 percent.
On what the UN agency calls a “gem in the middle of the Pacific,” the total quantity of rubbish weighs an estimated total of 17,600kg, according to the journal article entitled “Exceptional and rapid accumulation of anthropogenic debris on one of the world’s most remote and pristine islands.”
“The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming,” Dr Lavers told the Associated Press. “It’s both beautiful and terrifying.”
The world’s oceans are filled with roughly 250 million tonnes of plastic, with an additional eight million tonnes of plastic dumped into the seas each year.
According to a study released by the Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, just five countries – China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines – are accountable for 60 percent of this waste.
Henderson Island, South Pacific Paradise. We're a bloody stupid lot-the human race pic.twitter.com/zhLWeEfd4c
— Whena Owen (@WhenaOwen) May 16, 2017
Ironically, Unesco gushes on its website that Henderson Island “is one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence.”
“Henderson Island retains its exceptional natural beauty with its white, sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, and rich and almost undisturbed vegetation,” it continues.
With its vast numbers of breeding seabirds, the island is an outstanding example of a raised and forested oceanic coral atoll with its fundamental features intact.”
But according to the study, more than 55 percent of the world’s seabird species, including two species from Henderson Island, are currently at risk.
It says the number of species that “interact negatively” with marine debris has increased 49 percent in less than 20 years.
— RA Pacific Beat (@RAPacificBeat) May 17, 2017
“Society’s increasing desire for plastic products has resulted in plastic becoming ubiquitous in the marine environment, where it persists for decades,” says the report authored by Dr Jennifer Laver and Dr Alexander Bond.
The scientists add that a number of remote islands in the Pacific like Henderson Island may be sinks for some of the world’s increasing volume of waste caught in ocean currents from Asia and elsewhere.
“As global plastic production continues to increase exponentially, it will further impact the exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity for which this island and many other Unesco World Heritage Sites have been recognised,” concludes the study.