Stories of oceanic gyres filled with floating plastic have saturated recent environmental coverage. But one other effect of filling our ocean with garbage has been the decimation of island ecosystems. Henderson Island now officially has the world’s highest concentration of plastic waste.
Henderson Island Is Now the World’s Unintentional Landfill
Estimates found over 37.7 million pieces of debris on Henderson Island. Australian and British researchers came to this number after finding an average of 671 items per square meter. Spread out over an entire South Pacific island, this adds up to an enormous amount of trash.
Henderson lies at the center of a major ocean current. This carries floating plastic objects discarded from all over the world, a portion of which washes up on the various islands along its path. Now, the once pristine paradise of Henderson is, by scientific standards, the most abused of the group.
Dr. Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania is one of the lead researchers of this study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“A lot of the items on Henderson Island are what we wrongly refer to as disposable or single-use,” she said. “Land crabs are making their homes inside bottle caps, containers, and jars.”
Dr. Lavers states that although this may seem ‘cute’ at first look, it is actually quite dangerous for the species. Such plastic is already old and brittle, and also very likely toxic and sharp.
The condition of this island has become something of a battle-cry for those concerned about oceanic waste worldwide. For example, the study team hopes that people will “rethink their relationship with plastic”.
It is plastic’s buoyancy and durability that make it such a curse for environments, and when it is ingested, by mistake, its toxins go directly into the food chain.