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6th Jul, 2022

Plastic-covered uninhabited island which is one of earth's most polluted places to undergo clean up thanks to local man

A PLASTIC-STREWN uninhabited island which is one of the most polluted places on earth is set to be cleaned up with the help of a Southam man.

Dad-of-two James Beard will be spending three weeks on Henderson Island – which is part of the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific – with a team of 12 volunteers.

Over three weeks from the start of June, the team will be cleaning ten tonnes of plastic from the beaches of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, researching the impact on wildlife and studying how quickly plastic gathers.

James – who works as recycling services manager for Stratford-based waste company Valpak, which is sponsoring the trip – says the team will also be using a barcode scanner to establish where the plastic has come from.

He said: “It goes far beyond cleaning the beach, everything will be logged.

“Despite its isolation, Henderson Island is estimated to contain 38million pieces of plastic. It really shows the scale of the marine litter problem.

“Once plastics make their way into oceans, they can travel far away from their original home – scientists visiting Henderson have found litter from as far away as Croatia.”

As the location is so remote – the nearest countries are Chile, 3,500 miles to the west and New Zealand, 3,200 miles east – the only way to access it is via a flight to Tahiti before taking a boat for three days to Henderson Island.

They will be stopping on the boat and reach land each day via an inflatable dingy. If the weather is too bad to navigate the coral back they will be forced to camp on the beach – where some 13,500 pieces of plastic are believed to wash up each day.

The plastic is often consumed by birds and wildlife and turned into homes by hermit crabs.

And while James says he is aware of the ecological impact of travelling so far to collect the litter and carry out research, there are too few residents on the Pitcairns to carry out the work themselves. The four islands are home to just 50 people – descended from the mutineers of HMS Bounty and their Tahitian companions.

And he hopes to make up for his carbon impact due to the awareness the trip will raise about plastics. He will be working alongside scientists from the Natural History Museum and the University of Tasmania along with volunteers from the Pitcairns – a British Overseas Territory made up of four volcanic islands, with only Pitcairn itself inhabited.

James added: “Our hope is the project will raise awareness of the issue of marine litter and may help change people’s attitudes towards plastic and how they view waste as a resource instead of rubbish.

“Plastic has become a cornerstone of our society because it is so versatile. However, it is also viewed as a cheap commodity, when it should be treated as something that is unique.

“The scale of the problem in such a remote location helps to demonstrate plastic litter is a global challenge.

“While it is true to say that only a fraction of the plastics in the world’s oceans originate from the UK, we still need to consider our responsibility. We expect the litter on Henderson to have returned within six years, only a sea change in the way people use plastics will prevent this from happening.”

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