Researchers find around 414 million pieces of garbage on remote islands

Researchers find around 414 million pieces of garbage on remote islands
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Researchers on a remote South Pacific island say that they have discovered hundreds of tons of plastic and other waste washed ashore, most of which was buried underground.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that scientists on the Cocos islands off the coast of Western Australia found more than 414 million pieces of trash strewn across beaches on the formerly pristine tropical islands, including everything from smaller pieces of plastic to shoes and other clothing.

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238 metric tons of waste are estimated to have washed ashore on the islands, according to the researchers, who conducted studies that found much of the waste to be buried under sand, suggesting that previous studies of washed-ashore waste may have missed large quantities of garbage.

“Cocos is literally drowning in plastic, which is really sad considering how incredibly remote these islands are,” the study's lead author, Jennifer Lavers, told the Post.

“The quantity of debris buried below the surface was so significant,” she added. “It ended up accounting for more than 90 percent of the total debris on the island. That’s really quite remarkable.”

Tens of thousands of pieces of plastic were removed by local residents in a clean-up effort following the researchers' arrival, according to the Post, but millions remain across the islands. Lavers estimated that it would take the island's residents 4,000 years to produce the amount of trash currently accumulated near their homes.

“What Cocos and Henderson show us is that however stunning those numbers are, how alarming they are, it’s likely just the tip of the iceberg,” Lavers told the Post. “None of those cleanups are digging below the surface.”

Plastic waste in the world's oceans has become a major ecological issue in recent years, contributing to the death of marine life and forcing many companies and governments to reexamine the use of single-use plastics for commercial use.

Earlier this month, a dead juvenile sperm whale found washed ashore in Italy was discovered to have a stomach full of plastic waste.