Henderson Island, an open landfill in the South Pacific
The uninhabited island, located between Chile and New-Zealand, is one of the most remote places on Earth. The nearest town, Papeete, in Tahiti, is located more than 2000 km away. One could think Henderson would be spared human activity. Yet, a study conducted by the University of Tasmania, in Australia, revealed the island could have the world’s highest density of plastic debris.
A remote but highly polluted island
Henderson Island is part of the British Pitcairn islands. Major urban centers are located more than 5000 km away, in Chile or New-Zealand. Despite this remoteness, the island suffers harshly from human-induced pollution. A study conducted in 2015 and published in May 2017 by Jennifer Lavers and her team from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic studies of the University of Tasmania, revealed an incredible density of plastic waste. More than 38 million debris, weighing around 18 tonnes, cover the 31 square-kilometer island. In some places, more than 670 surface debris per square-meter were found, with as many as 4500 per square-meter buried at a depth of 10 centimeters.
And this debris accumulates : on one of the island’s beaches, about 3500 new debris wash up daily.
The South Pacific gyre, long-distance waste carrier
What could explain such high density of debris on such a remote island ? Henderson is located on the path of the South Pacific gyre, a current that sweeps along coastal debris, as well as waste from the fishing industry. Debris found in Henderson comes from all over : North and South America, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, even Europe ! This just shows that no place on Earth is safe from human impact. Remember when a study found extraordinarily high levels of toxic pollution in the 10 kilometer deep Mariana trench ?
Marine plastic pollution, a major environmental issue
Nowadays, it is common knowledge that plastic debris is highly ruinous when released in nature. In addition to releasing potentially toxic chemicals when decomposing, plastic debris causes the death of many animals who ingest it.
Jennifer Lavers stated that « marine plastic pollution is the new climate change. […] The rate of plastic in our oceans is absolutely phenomenal, and we need to do something now.”
Each year, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic components end up in the oceans.
The United Nations Environment Program launched a campaign last February to tackle the issue. Its goal is to achieve a global ban of microplastics in cosmetics and single-use plastics, which are a major part of the sources of marine litter.