Almost one million shoes and over 370,000 toothbrushes – they’re among the 414 million pieces of plastic found washed ashore on the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean, according to new research.
The group of mostly uninhabited 27 islands – which are 2,750 km (1,708 miles) from Perth – are marketed to tourists as “Australia’s last unspoilt paradise.”
Much of the rubbish was single-use consumer items such as bottle caps, straws, shoes and sandals, University of Tasmania marine eco-toxicologist Jennifer Lavers, who led the study, said.
“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,” Lavers said in a media release.
“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.”
Lavers said that the estimate of 414 million pieces was “conservative” as they had only sampled down to a depth of 10 centimeters, and could not access some beaches that were known as debris “hotspots.”
In 2017, Lavers revealed research that showed remote Henderson Island in the South Pacific Ocean had the highest density of plastic debris reported anywhere in the world.
Cocos (Keeling) Islands had a lower density of plastic than Henderson Island, but the total volume was higher than Henderson Island’s 38 million pieces which weighed 17 tonnes.
Lavers’ co-author, Victoria University’s Annett Finger, said an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic entered the world’s oceans in 2010 alone. There was an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris, she said.
“Plastic pollution is a well-documented threat to wildlife and its potential impact on humans is a growing area of medical research,” Finger said.
“The only viable solution is to reduce plastic production and consumption while improving waste management to stop this material entering our oceans in the first place.”