A Beautiful Island of … Trash?

June 1, 2017

Picture this: You’re walking on a white sandy beach on a beautiful island in the middle of the South Pacific, when all of a sudden you step on a little red plastic hotel from the Monopoly board game. Ouch! You take another step and your foot gets caught up in more garbage! You look up and realize that you’ve been walking on a beach filled with trash this entire time. Eww!

“Disposable” or “single-use” plastic items on Henderson Island via The University of Tasmania, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Well, it’s reality on the remote island of Henderson Island. What’s odd, however, is that Henderson Island is located in the South Pacific between the countries of New Zealand and Chile and no human beings actually live there. The only things that call the island home are 10 plant species and a few kinds of birds—making Henderson Island one of the few places in the world where scientists can study plants, animals, and marine life that have not been exposed to human interactions.

Recently, two scientists, Jennifer Lavers and Alexander Bond, discovered something alarming: Henderson island is covered in garbage! It wasn’t apparent at first, but after a little bit of digging, they were shocked at how much garbage was buried just below the sandy beaches of the island. We’re talking approximately 38 million pieces of garbage, weighing about 18 tons—that’s about as heavy as four average-sized African elephants!

East Beach, Henderson Island via The University of Tasmania, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

So how does garbage get to an island where no humans live? Good question. Garbage, especially plastic, travels through water. Some garbage sinks to the bottom of the ocean, while other pieces travel along until they get washed up ashore somewhere. Just think, garbage from the United States, Europe, China, and other places around the world can wind up thousands of miles away from where it was originally thrown away.

By Avsa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Henderson Island gets a lot of this garbage because of where it sits in the world. It’s located right at the edge of the South Pacific Gyre—that’s a giant circular current filled with garbage!

Here at Xyza, we got in touch with Dr. Lavers and she made some suggestions for how we can help with this problem. It’s the simple things like using bamboo instead of plastic products, and lending a hand at a local beach cleanup that will help a lot.

What are some of the other ways that you can help keep our oceans clean? Send your suggestions to editor@xyzanews.com.