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Pacific News Minute: 18 Tons of Plastic Pollute Beaches of a Remote, Uninhabited Island

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

A tiny, uninhabited island in the south Pacific is, according to scientists, “the most polluted, most remote island in the whole world.” More on Henderson Island from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


Every day, about 13,000 pieces of plastic wash up onto the beaches of Henderson Island. Cigarette lighters, plastic razors, toothbrushes, pacifiers. Nearly 18 tons has piled up on an island designated a world heritage site by UNESCO because it is among the few places on earth almost untouched by humans.


Henderson is a tiny coral outcrop, less than 15 square miles, about as isolated as can be. 120 miles northeast of Pitcairn…the Island famous as the destination of the Bounty mutineers, now home to a population of about 40.


Researchers went there precisely because it is so remote. Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania told The Guardian that the volume and diversity of plastic defied her expectations.


“My thought was the remarkable remoteness of Henderson Island would have afforded it some protection,” she said. “I was totally wrong.” Calling plastic pollution the new climate change, Lavers warned that the huge quantities of toxic plastic in the oceans is a threat to birds, turtles, fish and to the animal at the top  of the food chain…humans.


In February, scientists reported extraordinary levels of toxic pollution including plastic waste at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.


Like Pitcairn, Henderson Island has a literary background. In 1820, three whaleboats struggled ashore after their ship, the Essex was rammed and sunk by a sperm whale…the story that inspired Moby Dick.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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