Stab Magazine | Welcome To The Plastic Beach, Henderson Island

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Welcome To The Plastic Beach, Henderson Island

Someone call Boyan Slat!

news // May 24, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

In less than a week the world’s best surfers will land on a “tiny heart shaped island in the South Pacific” and Instagram will flutter with love notes to Tavi and Namotu. The island will be fawned over like Valhalla incarnate. 

You know what island in the South Pacific won’t? Henderson Island. It’s become a literal piece of tropic trash. Designated a World Heritage Site by the U.N. in 1988 thanks to its rare bird life, today the island is famous for having more trash than anywhere else in the world. A new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates that there are more than 38 million pieces of trash on Henderson Island.

“The whole beach was covered in fishing lines and buoys, flip-flops, plastic bottles, it was atrocious,” National Geographic explorer-in-residence and marine ecologist Enric Sala recently told NPR. “But there are other places in the world that have not been reported in the scientific literature that are as bad.”

“In this particular study on Henderson, most of the identifiable trash came from China, Japan and Chile, and this clearly shows that trash from all over the world is transported all over the ocean,” said Sala. “We have to think that 80 percent of the trash in the ocean comes from the land.…The ocean is downstream of everything.”

Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn chain, which is about as remote a location as you’re going to find. It’s not blessed with good surf, but up until recently, it was a remarkably pristine place. Only six miles long and three miles wide, it’s one of two raised atolls in the ocean. For literary nerds, it’s also where a sperm whale rammed a whaling ship in 1820, inspiring Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Today, it is a disaster zone with its unique, endemic bird life threatened by man.

“The worst part is not what you see, but what you cannot see,” continued Sala. “People have heard about these great garbage patches in the middle of the ocean, and there are areas with accumulation of large debris, but most of the plastic in the ocean is microscopic. So the ocean actually, instead of thinking of garbage patches or islands, we should think of the ocean as a giant plastic soup.”

How is this relevant to the Skulldraggers and Fiji Bitters that will soon be consumed on Tavarua and Namotu? Because it’s the same ocean and our prized surfing zones could go the way of Henderson. 

“The isolation of remote islands has, until recently, afforded protection from most human activities. However, society’s increasing desire for plastic products has resulted in plastic becoming ubiquitous in the marine environment, where it persists for decades,” reads the study, written by Jennifer L. Laversa and Alexander L. Bond. “The density of debris was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, suggesting that remote islands close to oceanic plastic accumulation zones act as important sinks for some of the waste accumulated in these areas. As global plastic production continues to increase exponentially, it will further impact the exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity for which remote islands have been recognised.”

And now, the good news! Outerknown has picked up the tab for the contest in Fiji this year. Kelly Slater and his associates have made it their mission to battle ocean pollution. Will this study add to a sense of urgency for other businesses to join the fight? We can only hope.

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