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Trash Found In Remote Islands Suggests That World's Plastic Problem Might Be Bigger Than Initially Thought

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Cocos Island trash. Researchers who surveyed Australia's last unspoiled paradise found tons of plastic debris washed up on the beach. They estimated that there are 414 million pieces of plastic debris in the uninhabited islands.   ( University of Tasmania )

Researchers who recently surveyed the uninhabited Cocos (Keelings) Islands in Australia found an estimated 414 million pieces of plastic debris.

Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, spent a year cataloging the trash that ended up in the beaches of the territory. She found 373,000 toothbrushes and 977,000 shoes on the shores of Australia's last unspoiled paradise.

She and her team published their report in the journal Scientific Reports.

Plastic Pollution Spoils Uninhabited Australian Islands

Lavers also made headlines in 2017 when she revealed that the beaches of Henderson Island, a remote area in the South Pacific, has the highest density of plastic debris on Earth. They found 37.7 million pieces of plastic debris on its uninhabited shores.

However, unlike Henderson Islands, the trash found in Cocos Islands were mostly single-use plastic such as straws. They also found "a large number of shoes and thongs."

Moreover, Lavers said that there might be more garbage in the territory. Roughly 93 percent of the debris found were buried in the ground.

"Our estimate of 414 million pieces weighing 238 tonnes on Cocos (Keeling) is conservative, as we only sampled down to a depth of 10 centimeters and couldn't access some beaches that are known debris 'hotspots," she stated in a press release.

The researchers wrote that the amount of garbage buried below the surface of the beach is 26 times higher than those that are visible. This might mean that the global debris survey, which has focused solely on what is on the surface, might have drastically underestimated the problem.

Trash In Every Corner Of The World

Lavers believes that the amount of trash in remote islands, such as Cocos, represent how much plastic is circulating around the world.

"Islands such as these are like canaries in a coal mine and it's increasingly urgent that we act on the warnings they are giving us," she explained. "Plastic pollution is now ubiquitous in our oceans, and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the volume of plastic debris now circling the globe."

Anette Finger of the Victoria University and a co-author of the study pointed out that despite the problem, production of single-use consumer plastics continues to increase. Almost half of the plastics produced in the past 60 years were manufactured in the last 13 years.

In 2010, an estimated 12.7 million tons of plastic entered the oceans.

Finger stated that the scale of plastic pollution means that cleaning up the ocean is currently an impossibility. The only way to stop the problem is to significantly reduce the production and consumption of single-use plastic.

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