Researchers at the University of Tasmania have discovered that one of the world’s most remote islands is also one of the most polluted places on Earth, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The small spit of land — known as Henderson Island — is one of the most secluded islands in the world. In fact, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is so remote that it is visited only once every five to 10 years.
However, that seclusion has not kept it safe from human pollution.
The team in the recent study reports that the island is the most polluted in the world. More than 37.7 million pieces of plastic — roughly 17 tons of debris — litter the sandy beaches. That adds up to a staggering 62 pieces of plastic per square foot.
“Based on our sampling at five sites we estimated that more than 17 tons 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,” explained lead author Jennifer Lavers, a researcher at the University of Tasmania, in a statement.
Even more concerning is that the team believes those numbers may underestimate the amount of debris on the island. This is because the study only looked at plastic samples that were larger than 0.08 inches and located up to four inches deep in the sand. The pollution along the coastline has not yet been measured, Live Science reports.
These new findings reveal the prevalence of plastic pollution. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, and most of it is not recycled. Debris leads to many ecological problems. It is an ingestion hazard for many species, creates a physical barrier on beaches for animals like sea turtles, and lowers the diversity of shoreline invertebrates. Over 200 species are at risk from eating plastic, and the team hopes studies such as this one will bring attention to the threat they pose.
“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,” Lavers added.