“For some items, encrusting with marine organisms and weathering suggest they have been floating in the ocean for many years, perhaps decades,” Lavers explained.
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The researchers found up to 672 pieces of debris per every 10.7 square feet. The majority of the garbage was made out of plastic and was buried to a depth of about 4 inches. Lavers and Bond estimate that 37.7 million pieces of plastic debris weighing a combined 17.6 tons exist on the small island.
The trash unexpectedly comes from all around the world.
“We found items on Henderson from as far away as France, Japan, the UK, and Ecuador,” Bond explained. “This really is a global problem.”
The scientists found numerous resin pellets known as “nurdles,” which are the raw production stock that are normally melted down to form new plastics. The small pellets are often “lost” during various points in the transportation system, both on land and at sea, Bond said.
“Unfortunately, they look remarkably like fish eggs,” he added, “a feature that may explain why they’re being consumed by a diversity of marine wildlife.”
The researchers encountered a female green turtle entangled in fishing line on Henderson’s North Beach. When they went to rescue her, they found that she had already died.
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Lavers and Bond also saw partially-eaten plastic items and hermit crabs making a “home” in plastic caps, bottles and other containers. The debris was brittle and old, however, so the researchers believe that it could threaten the crabs’ safety.