Researchers discover an alarming amount of buried plastic

Researchers discover an alarming amount of buried plastic

Over the last few years, researchers have discovered buried plastic. With plastic breaking down into smaller pieces over time, the smaller pieces sink through the sand and settle in sub-surface layers.

So the world may be drastically underestimating the scale of plastic debris.

Two examples of the plastic waste researches found washed up on the beaches of small, remote, uninhabited islands:


In 2017, on Henderson Island, an estimated 38 million pieces of trash was found, most of it plastic and weighing 17.6 tons. 2/3rds was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches. Almost all of the garbage they found on was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and colour.

Uninhabited Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands group and a British dependency, is about 10 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide. It is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site

The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.

At that time, researchers said the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness.

Researchers were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches of Henderson Island.(Jennifer Lavers/Associated Press)

By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, researchers were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island.




Scientists estimated that the beaches of Australia’s Cocos (Keeling) Islands are strewn with around 414 million pieces of plastic pollution. They believe some 93% of it lies buried under the sand, say the researchers.  

Close to a million plastic shoes, mainly flip flops are among the torrent of debris washed up on an “unspoilt paradise” in the Indian Ocean.

The research team surveyed the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a horseshoe chain of 26 small land masses 2,100km north-west of Australia. Around 600 people live in these remote places, which are sometimes described as “Australia’s last unspoilt paradise”.

Researchers found that oceanic currents are depositing huge amounts of plastic pollution on the beaches of these atolls. They calculated that the islands are littered with 238 tonnes of plastic, including 977,000 plastic shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes. These were among the identifiable elements in an estimated 414 million pieces of debris.

Debris on Cocos

Valiant attempts to clean up beaches by volunteers are literally, scratching the surface of the problem. Researchers are concerned that this wealth of buried plastic could threaten wildlife living or nesting in beach sediments, such as sea turtles and crustaceans.

“It wasn’t a huge surprise to me, it’s simply that the surveys done up until now have looked at the surface and it’s obviously a lot of time and effort to dig deeper,” said Dr Chris Tuckett, from the Marine Conservation Society, who wasn’t involved with the study.

The scientists believe their overall finding is conservative, as they weren’t able to access some beaches known to be hotspots of pollution.

Based on findings on these remote islands, we may be drastically underestimating the scale of plastic pollution

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia’s University of Tasmania, was lead author of this latest report, which was published Tuesday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She stated that based on what she had seen on Henderson Island and the Cocos Islands, the world has “drastically underestimated” the scale of concealed plastic debris. The finding may also help explain a significant gap in our understanding of plastic pollution.

“Over the years, over the decades, we know how much plastic we put out into the ocean. But when we’ve done some sampling to try and figure out how much is floating in the surface layers … there actually seems to be a bit of a mismatch between what we think we’ve put out there, and what we find,” said Dr Lavers. “So there’s this missing plastic where we don’t actually know where it’s gone. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Researchers were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches.(Jennifer Lavers/Associated Press)


Excerpted by Michelle Mech, member SUPER

June 6, 2019

Post a comment

%d bloggers like this: