Want to see what 30 million pieces of plastic on a beach looks like? Visit this island.
Henderson Island should be the remote island paradise of your dreams. Instead, it looks like this:
It wasn't the locals (the island is uninhabited) or any bullheaded tourists who left the rubbish there. Henderson Island sits the middle of the South Pacific, more than 3,000 miles away from Australia, New Zealand, and South America.
It's so far removed that when researcher Jennifer Lavers went there in 2015, it took two planes and convincing a passing freight ship to make a detour, The Atlantic reported.
It's not exactly a spring break trip to Cabo.
And yet the island is home to millions of pieces of trash. An estimated 37.7 million, to be specific. Most of it is plastic, a vast collection of little green army men, red Monopoly motels, cigarette lighters, and discarded toothbrushes.
So who the hell put all that plastic there?
The answer is all of us. We all did.
Henderson Island sits near the middle of the South Pacific ocean gyre, which is a gigantic circle of ocean currents that pick up trash from all across the ocean. Henderson's just an unfortunate obstacle in the way.
“What’s happened on Henderson Island shows there’s no escaping plastic pollution even in the most distant parts of our oceans," Lavers said in a press release.
"Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale," Lavers said. She and a team of six other people stayed on Henderson for three and a half months to document the pollution. They published their findings this month in a new scientific paper.
This is one island, but it shows how bad the problem is. A 2015 study estimated we could be dumping more than 10 billion pounds of plastic into the ocean each year. Plastic pollution can harm or even kill sea life and can affect human health.
If we don't change something, every beach in the world could eventually look like Henderson Island.
We shouldn't lose hope. Whether it's gigantic plastic-collecting pontoons, solar-powered trash-gobblers, beach cleanups, or getting fishermen to nab old, floating nets out of the water, there are ways we can still try to fix this.
Of course, maybe the place to start is to be smarter about how we use plastic in the first place (Lavers herself was so appalled that she's switched to a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush, the AP reported).
But we need to be aware of what's at stake. Because if this can happen to a deserted island, it can happen at home too.