Tiny island has 38 million pieces of trash In this 2015 photo provided by Jennifer Lavers, a crab uses as shelter a piece of plastic debris on the beach on Henderson Island. (Jennifer Lavers via AP)
Tiny island has 38 million pieces of trash
Lexile

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 beaches.
 
Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and color.
 
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.
 
Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia's University of Tasmania, was lead author of the report, which was published in "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
 
Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which 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 that litters the island 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 while conducting 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 that looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s, as well as 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 after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab that was living in a cosmetics container.
 
By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island, which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) long and 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide.
 
Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.
 
Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, when she showed up three days late, and 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 is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away."
 
Melissa Bowen, an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, 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.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How could such a tiny island collect so much trash?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (5)
  • vaneises-
    5/25/2017 - 08:37 a.m.

    The tiny island could collect so much trash because island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.

  • brendanw-kut
    5/30/2017 - 07:48 a.m.

    Just wow. This reminds me of a video I saw at social studies. In it, it showed how fish eat the dangerous stuff in the ocean and then we eat the fish. I'm even more proud of what I do now. At Mcdonalds. I always choose not to get the toy because it costs more, I never play with it, and the amount of trash already made of plastic. I truly am proud of myself.

  • coling-cot
    8/14/2017 - 07:15 a.m.

    Henderson Island can collect so much trash because it is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents. The vortex causes the trash to get stuck and over time it builds up. Then, winds and currents from the gyre push trash towards Henderson Island.

  • johno-cot
    8/14/2017 - 08:58 a.m.

    Henderson island is island in the middle of the Pacific that is recognized as a UNESCO site, but that is not the only achievement it has recently been recognized for. Research teams from the Australia's University of Tasmania recently traveled to Henderson island only to find an estimated 17.6 tons of trash afloat on and around the island. Melissa Bowen is an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand and she said said that the reason for all of this trash piling up is because Henderson island is at the edge of a vortex known as the South Pacific Gyre which tends to capture and hold trash that floats into it.

  • ambers-cel
    8/17/2017 - 12:16 p.m.

    It is a never ending stream of trash washing up on the island because this island is located at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre.

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