WELLINGTON, BALIPOST.com – Floating plastic garbage has swamped a remote Pacific island once regarded as an environmental jewel and scientists say little can be done to save it while a throwaway culture persists.
Henderson Island is an uninhabited coral atoll that lies almost exactly halfway between New Zealand and Peru, with 5,500 kilometres (3,400 miles) of ocean in either direction.
Despite its extreme isolation, a freak confluence of geography and ocean currents means Henderson has one of the highest concentrations of plastic pollution on the planet.
“We found debris from just about everywhere,” said Jennifer Lavers, an Australian-based researcher who led an expedition to the island last month.
“We had bottles and containers, all kinds of fishing stuff and it had come from, well, you name it — Germany, Canada, the United States, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador.
“It was a real message that every country has a responsibility to protect the environment, even in these remote areas.”
Henderson lies at the centre of the South Pacific gyre, a vast circular ocean current that runs anti-clockwise down the east coast of Australia and up the west coast of South America.
The gyre should be a boon for the 10-kilometre-by-five speck of land, carrying rich nutrients into the waters surrounding Henderson to feed huge colonies of sea birds.
The atoll’s ecosytem is so rich that Henderson was included on the UN World Heritage List in 1988, with the body hailing it as an untouched paradise.
“As one of the last near-pristine limestone islands of significant size in the world, Henderson Island retains its exceptional natural beauty with its white, sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, and rich and almost undisturbed vegetation,” it said. (AFP)