Henderson Island – the most polluted uninhabited island in the world
Henderson Island is a remote and difficult to access island, completely uninhabited in the South Pacific Ocean, surrounded on all sides by coral reefs. Yet it has miraculously become the most polluted island in the world.
Henderson Island is owned by Great Britain and is the largest of the Pitcairn Group. There are five islands in all in the Pitcairn group and only one of them, and that is Pitcairn Island, is inhabited by humans. Henderson was born thanks to the underwater volcanoes of Bounty, Adams, and Young, which caused the island to rise above the sea. Although the island is completely uninhabited at this point, scientists have found traces of human presence on it, such as cave paintings, tools and, human skeletons of people who lived here about a thousand years ago. It has been speculated that between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries it was inhabited by Polynesians but so far there is no scientific evidence to support it. The island is rarely visited by explorers and the shrinking population of Pitcairn. Because of its difficult accessibility, since the nearest large massif is more than 5000 km away, Henderson Island is hardly visited by tourists.
The discoverer of the island is Pedro Fernández Quiroz, who discovered it by chance in the early seventeenth century and gave it the name San Juan Baptista. But after two centuries, the ship Hercules, under the command of Captain Henderson, landed on the island and named it after himself. Since then, this name was firmly attached to the island, where today grow valuable species of wood, souvenirs of which are valued around the world. In addition, because of its remote location from civilization, it has preserved the nature in its original form, with endemic species of plants and birds, so it is an excellent place to study the processes of long-term evolution. In 1988, it was even included in the list of protected sites of the World Natural Heritage under the auspices of UNESCO.
But nevertheless, instead of pleasing mankind with its unique flora and fauna and clean pristine sandy beaches, its shores are strewn with plastic and glass bottles, cellophane bags, caps, nets, buckets and other garbage, most of it plastic. There are an estimated 38 million pieces of 18,000 pounds of plastic scattered along the Henderson Island waterfront. And most of the debris is buried under a layer of sand and is not visible at first glance. On a coastal strip of up to ten meters wide the waves bring about 3,750 new items every day. Thus, the pollution density of the island is 670 fragments of plastic per square meter, making it the most littered place in the world.
And researchers have counted only large debris, which is more than 2 mm, but the negative impact on the inhabitants of the oceans and islands have even small particles, which at high temperature and environmental influences break up into small particles that are eaten by fish and jellyfish taking them for food. And larger items such as caps, lighters, rings from plastic bottles end up in the food of sea birds, animals and reptiles, their bodies are unable to digest this garbage, it leads to their death. According to researchers, this plastic debris threatens 200 species of animals, including 55 percent of seabirds, including two species that live on Henderson.
All of this trash comes to the island from the world’s oceans, because Henderson is just in the path of a powerful ocean current called the South Pacific gyre. And as a result, all the trash that is dumped in the ocean on the west coast of South America, Australia gets into the flow of the gyre collecting trash from the South Pacific and distant continents, carrying it to the shore of Henderson which stands in its path. In addition to Henderson Island, this phenomenon occurs in the northern hemisphere, where all the plastic from the entire North Pacific Ocean ends up on Kamilo Beach in Hawaii.