Thanks to the South Pacific gyre and humanity's endless supply of discarded plastic, there is an island in the Pacific that has become a particular magnet for waste which a team of scientists recently estimated to be about 17.6 tons worth, or about 38 million individual pieces of trash. As the Associated Press reports, "There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and color," not to mention piles of cigarette lighters and "red motels from the Monopoly board game."
The place is called Henderson Island, an uninhabited six-by-three-mile spit of sand that's part of the Pitcairn Islands group, and researcher Dr. Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania led a group of six others on a study that took three and a half months in 2015, combing the beaches and documenting all that they found. They also cleared a patch of beach and recorded how much trash washed up on it in 24 hours, coming to the estimate that more than 13,000 pieces arrive on the island every day, most of it plastic.
As Lavers explains in the introduction to her study on plastic pollution, "For years we’ve heard about the North Pacific Gyre (or Garbage Patch) where there is up to 40x more plastic in the ocean than plankton... But what most people don’t realize is the North Pacific Garbage Patch is not the only one of its kind. There are at least five others, fed by more than 20 million items that enter the world’s oceans each and every day."
Lavers has been so appalled by her own research that she herself uses a bamboo toothbrush (the most common trash item found on Henderson island), and a bamboo iPhone case. "We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic," she tells the AP. "It's something that's designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away."
She notes that thousands of Laysan Albatross chicks have died from ingesting plastics, and more than 690 other marine species are known to ingest them as well, including fish and sea birds, likely leading to documented declines in their populations.
Lavers is hoping that studies like this can help clean up the problem by better understanding the patterns of where our garbage accumulates most. "It's time to reconsider the infamous quote 'Garbage Patch the size of Texas' and start thinking outside the box," she writes. "Unlike Texas, ocean basins do not have boundaries. Our garbage is everywhere."