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Asia Minute: Plastic Choking Pacific Island

H. Hach

Thousands of pounds of man-made trash wash up each year at Kamilo Point, on the southeast side of the Big Island. It’s pushed there by ocean currents and winds. Some other islands in the Pacific suffer from a similar problem, and there’s news this week of some alarming specifics.

You may never have heard of the Cocos or Keeling Islands south of the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. They’re an Australian territory — a couple of coral atolls, and a little more than two dozen islands. The whole chain is about 5 square miles.

And there is plastic.

Tons of plastic. An estimated 238 tons, according to a study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports. Marine biologist Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania says her team puts the amount of plastic at more than 400 million pieces of debris.

The team did a close examination of seven different spots around several islands and extrapolated the numbers to reach those staggering totals.

At least a quarter of that material is single-use plastics, like food packaging. Other common items — plastic toothbrushes and rubber slippers.

The study also found that the pollution goes deeper than the beach, with more than 90% of the waste buried in the sand.

The local government told researchers they have problems disposing of the plastic, and not a lot of good options. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation quotes one local leader as saying they tried to use an incinerator to burn the plastic but “it needed too much diesel to run.” 

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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