Henderson Island, in the South Pacific, is thousands of miles from any major industrial centers or human communities. But it’s filled with trash — more than 37 million pieces of it, researchers say.
Turtles get tangled in fishing line, and hermit crabs make their homes in plastic containers. The high-tide line is demarcated by litter. Small scraps of plastic are buried inches deep into the sandy beaches.
The island is uninhabited and visited by scientists only once or twice a decade, according to the University of Tasmania. But ocean currents bring a steady stream of plastic trash from around the world, from litter swept into storm drains to debris dropped off fishing boats.
“What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans,” lead author Jennifer Lavers said in a statement released by the university. “Far from being the pristine ‘deserted island’ that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale.”
There are no major factories or towns within 3,100 miles of the island, the scientists say. So all that trash — more than 17 tons of it, with thousands of new individual pieces arriving each day — travels long distances through the ocean before arriving on the white-sand beaches.
The researchers call the pace of accumulation “exceptional.” And it has consequences: The trash interferes with sea turtle nests and poses a threat to seabirds that can get caught in the debris.
Researchers say Henderson Island is polluted with the highest density of plastic trash ever recorded in the field.