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  • Plastic waste washed ashore following strong waves.

    Plastic waste washed ashore following strong waves. | Photo: EFE

Published 17 May 2019

The team of scientists chose the islands because the lack of residents makes it an ideal location to measure plastic waste.

The remote Cocos Keeling Islands in the Indian Ocean, which is made up of 27 islands and barely 6 square miles of land, shocked Australian marine biologist Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania, in Australia, after she witnessed the volume of plastic waste in the region barely inhabited by humans. 

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Lavers said she chose the islands because the lack of residents makes it an ideal location to measure plastic waste. Not only was the waste not locally produced, but no one was picking up what ended up floating in.

Lavers and her team concluded that there was "more than 414 million pieces of plastic debris... on the Cocos Keeling Islands, weighing a remarkable 238 tons."

The team of scientists studied seven islands and multiplied their findings by the total beach area on the remote string of islands. According to the group, some of the islands known as pollution "hotspots" were inaccessible, which could mean that their projections are much lower.

The team estimates that the plastic waste on the islands is made up of approximately 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes. Not only did the teams count the trash found on the surface of the island, but also four inches below as well.

"You get to the point where you're feeling that not much is going to surprise you anymore, and then something does... and that something was actually the amount of debris that was buried."

Lavers​​​​​​​ added that the deeper they dug, the more plastic was found, adding that most of the plastic waste was found buried underneath the surface.

The wear and tear of the plastic results in it breaking down into "perfectly bite-sized" pieces "that fish and squid and birds and even turtles can eat," the biologist pointed out.

The professor added that it is unlikely for the plastic to remain buried on the beach and that tides and storms will eventually carry it out to sea.

According to researchers, almost half of the plastic produced since its development was made in the last 13 years. 

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