IMAS researcher discovers plastic pollution on remote Henderson Island

One of the world’s most remote islands has been taken over by almost 38 million pieces of plastic. 

When Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies researcher Jennifer Lavers recently set foot on the uninhabited and highly remote Henderson Island, she was met with tonnes of plastic debris littering the coast. 

Dr Lavers was lead author on the scientific expedition, which ventured to the island located about 5000 kilometres away from the closest major population centre. 

The island, which lies in the South Pacific Ocean, is so remote it is only visited every five to 10 years for research purposes. 

Dr Lavers said Henderson Island sat close to the centre of the South Pacific Gyre, an ocean current that collects debris from South America or left by fishing boats.

“What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans,” she said.

“Plastic debris is an entanglement and ingestion hazard for many species, creates a physical barrier on beaches to animals such as sea turtles, and lowers the diversity of shoreline invertebrates.

“Research has shown that more than 200 species are known to be at risk from eating plastic, and 55 per cent of the world’s seabirds, including two species found on Henderson Island, are at risk from marine debris.” 

But Dr Lavers said it was also likely the data underestimated just how much litter was on the island. 

“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,” she said. 

“Based on our sampling at five sites, we estimated that more than 17 tonnes of plastic debris has been deposited on the island, with more than 3570 new pieces of litter washing up each day on one beach alone.” 

Dr Lavers’ paper was published in the prestigious American scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.