Tiny island has 38 million pieces of trash
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Researchers traveled to a tiny, uninhabited island. It is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were shocked to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash. It all had washed up on the beaches.
Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos and toothbrushes. Hundreds of hardhats were found. They were every shape, size and color.
The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded. This is despite Henderson Island's extreme remoteness. The island is about halfway between New Zealand and Chile. It is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Jennifer Lavers is a research scientist. She works at Australia's University of Tasmania. She was lead author of the report. It was published in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents. They are known as the South Pacific gyre. It tends to capture and hold floating trash.
"The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming," Lavers told The Associated Press. "It's both beautiful and terrifying."
She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerized by the variety and colors of the plastic. It litters the island. That is before the tragedy of it would sink in again.
Lavers and six others stayed on the island for 3 and a half months in 2015. During that time, they conducted the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tons. More than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.
Lavers said she noticed green toy soldiers. They looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s. She also saw red motels from the Monopoly board game.
She said the most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. One of the strangest was a baby pacifier.
She said they found a sea turtle that had died. It had gotten caught in an abandoned fishing net. And they found a crab. It was living in a cosmetics container.
The researchers cleared a part of the beach of trash. Then they watched new pieces build up. Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day. The island is about 6 miles long. It is about 3 miles wide.
Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group. It is a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding. This was after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.
Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia. She managed to show up three days late. She still got married.
Lavers said she is so appalled by the amount of plastic in the oceans that she has taken to using a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush.
"We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic," she said. "It's something that's designed to last forever. But it is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away."
Melissa Bowen is an oceanographer at the University of Auckland. It is in New Zealand. She was not involved in the study. She said that winds and currents in the gyre cause the buildup of plastic items on places like Henderson Island.
"As we get more and more of these types of studies, it is bringing home the reality of plastic in the oceans," Bowen said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How could such a tiny island collect so much trash?
Write your answers in the comments section below