Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on remote Pacific island


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Garbage on Henderson Island in the south Pacific Ocean. The uninhabited island has been found to have the world’s highest density of waste plastic, with more than 3,500 additional pieces of litter washing ashore daily at just one of its beaches. (Jennifer Lavers, AP)
Jake Slobe | May 15, 2017

When researchers traveled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the island.

A new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that there were 17.6 tons of debris on the shores of the tiny island. The world produces that amount of plastic every 1.98 seconds, the researchers wrote.

Over 99 percent of the debris is made of plastic—most pieces are unidentifiable fragments.  The researchers say that fishing-related activities and land-based sources seem to have produced the majority of the debris.

The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Henderson Island sits at the western side of the South Pacific Gyre, a counterclockwise current that collects floating debris from the shore of South America. Researchers found that most items on the island came from China, Japan or Chile.  (Jennifer Lavers, AP)

Dr. Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at the University of Tasmania in Australia, was the lead author of the report.

What’s happened on Henderland Island shows there’s no escaping the effects plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans, said Lavers in a press release discussing the study.

“It speaks to the fact that these items that we call ‘disposable’ or ‘single-use’ are neither of those things,” she said, “and that items that were constructed decades ago are still floating around there in the ocean today, and for decades to come.”

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