A study performed on the debris on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean found an alarming amount of plastic products and other waste items that had washed up on the beaches, reported The Guardian. A total of 414 million pieces of plastic weighing 238 tons included 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes.
The remote islands are home to a population of around 600 people and are located off the southwestern coast of Indonesia. Through studying islands similar to the Cocos, researchers are able to get a better idea of the amount of plastic and trash circulating in the Earth’s oceans and offer a better indication of the hazards posed by human consumption.
Jennifer Lavers, from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies and lead author of the study, warned about the effects of single-use items and the ways in which we dispose of our waste.
“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.”
The study echoed the lead researcher’s concerns, which concluded that the amount of debris buried beneath the beach was up to 26 times greater than that which was visible on the surface.
“Our excessive and unrelenting demand for plastics, coupled with ineffective policy and waste management, has resulted in myriad negative effects on marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments, including entanglement and ingestion of debris, and subsequent exposure to plastic-associated chemicals.”
The report added that the situation found on the Cocos Islands is unfortunately not unique and that the islands and coastal areas where the largest amount of debris ends up reflect the most worrisome symptoms of a rapidly increasing environmental hazard.
The plastic waste and other trash that ends up polluting the oceans and the lands where they wash up impacts the biodiversity of the region in addition to the local populations that live there.
The report cautions that even if humans can find a way to drastically reduce the plastic waste that pollutes the oceans, “marine plastic mitigation will remain a perpetual game of catch-up.”
Despite these concerning studies, global plastic production continues to increase, with about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris circulating the oceans.
Authors of the study make the unfortunate conclusion that cleaning up all of the plastic waste in the oceans is currently not possible nor is keeping up with the clearing of beaches once the plastic has washed back ashore as it is a costly and time-consuming practice.