Henderson Island is a dot on a map of The Pacific, but the tiny atoll is growing fast as tons of debris wash up on the beaches.
The uninhabited island is one of The Pitcairns, nestling halfway in the vast empty oceans stretching thousands of miles between Australia and South America.
But the romance ends there.
Henderson Island has no fresh water and poor soil rendering the place unsuitable for people.
The island’s only claim to fame is the beaches are ankle deep in plastic waste.403
38m pieces of rubbish
The garbage is trapped in the currents of the swirling South Pacific Gyre and inevitably washes up on the beaches.
An expedition led by Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania discovered an astonishing 38 million pieces of rubbish weighing 18 tonnes littering Henderson Island’s shores.
The litter is almost all plastic, ranging from small pellets to much larger items, such as plastic cutlery, bottles, bags, pens, straws, cigarette lighters, razors and toothbrushes.
Discarded fishing equipment, including buoys, nets and lines also feature strongly among the piles of rubbish.
“Plastic is like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Once it’s there it lingers for years, just as plastic floats around the ocean and takes decades to break down,” said Lavers.
Her solution is for an alternative to plastic to reduce the horrors of places like Henderson island.
Discard plastic is a danger to wildlife as fish, turtles and seabirds.
Decades old waste
Lavers explained they can be trapped in the garbage or swallow accidentally, especially if their prey has ingested plastic earlier.
The Pacific has at least two gyres – one in the north and the other in the south.
Their dynamics are still mostly a mystery, but research suggests once plastic is caught in a gyre, the ocean can carry the rubbish for years before dumping it somewhere like Henderson Island.
The island sits in the gyre and acts like a sieve collecting passing waste.
Some is identified as decades old from labelling or style, like plastic soldiers from 30 or 40 years ago in the heaps on Henderson Island.