This Remote Island Has the Highest Density of Debris in the World

Located in the South Pacific, Henderson Island’s representation of one of the best examples of a coral atoll earned it a designation as as an UN World Heritage site.  The remote and uninhabited elevated island is the largest of the four islands in the Pitcairn Island group.  The closest habited island 125 miles (200 kilometers) away, its isolated location and undisturbed by human habitation status makes this island an invaluable setting for studying island biogeography.

Henderson Island. Source: NASA image acquired on April 3, 2009, by Advanced Spaceborne Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) aboard the Terra satellite.

Henderson Island. Source: NASA image acquired on April 3, 2009, by Advanced Spaceborne Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) aboard the Terra satellite.

While the remoteness of the island has protected it from most aspects of human disturbance and pollution, Henderson Island has been plagued by an enormous amount of plastic debris that has washed up on to its beaches. The location of the island near an ocean gyre, the island has been rapidly accumulating plastic debris floating over on currents from the Americas.  A study published in 2017 found that Henderson Island is home to the highest density of debris in the world. The study found that surfaces of the island’s beaches contain 671.6 items of debris per square meter.  The study also calculated that 37.7 million debris items weighing a total of 17.6 tons are on the island with an accumulation of further debris at a rate of 26.8 new items per day.


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The location of Henderson Island near an ocean gyre has results in the rapid accumulation of marine debris along its beaches. Source: Lavers & Bond, 2018.

The location of Henderson Island near a ocean gyres has results in the rapid accumulation of marine debris along its beaches. Source: Lavers & Bond, 2018.

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