The tropical islands that once inspired Charles Darwin’s first paper and book is now piled under 414 million pieces of plastic.
Famed for their unspoilt beauty, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in Australia were an important stop on the biologist’s Beagle voyage in 1836.
The accumulated rubbish on the islands today are even ending up in remote islands nearby which shows just how dense the debris is, scientists say.
The natural islands of Cocos in Australia (pictured) that once inspired Charles Darwin’s is now piled under 414 million pieces of plastic
In the latest study, scientists from the University of Tazmania collected plastic, glass, wood, and metal items along a total of 25 beaches (seven islands) sampled in the Cocos Islands group that totalled a sampled area of 12,000 square feet (110 m sq).
Around 25 per cent of the rubbish collected in the latest study were classified as disposable plastics, including straws, bags, and toothbrushes.
The remote islands of Cocos (Keeling) are positioned between Australia and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean and only two of its 27 coral islands are inhabited.
According to the paper that surveyed the rubbish in the Cocos island group, around 60 per cent of the material is made up of small pieces known micro-debris that are 2–5 mm in length.
Darwin’s visit to Cocos in 1836 provided him with the opportunity to look for support for his theory, and became central to his theory of coral reef development that led to his first paper and book on the subject.
He argued that volcanic islands in the tropical Pacific Ocean slowly allowed the formation of an living system that included ringed reefs, barrier reef, and a circular island.
Dr Jennifer Kavers who surveyed the islands in the latest study, said: ‘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.
‘Our estimate of 414 million pieces weighing 238 tonnes on Cocos (Keeling) is conservative, as we only sampled down to a depth of four inches (10cm) and couldn’t access some beaches that are known debris ‘hotspots’.
‘Unlike Henderson Island, where most identifiable debris was fishing-related, the plastic on Cocos (Keeling) was largely single-use consumer items such as bottle caps and straws, as well as a large number of shoes and thongs,’ Dr Lavers said.
Australia’s best beach for 2017 was Cossies Beach in Cocos Islands (pictured). The accumulated rubbish on the islands today are so dense, however, they are even ending up on remote islands nearby
Famed for their unspoilt beauty, the beaches of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands were visited by Charles Darwin in 1836 during his Beagle voyage. The image shows Dr Jennifer Lavers knelt down by the plastic on the beach
Co-author Dr Annett Finger from Victoria University said global production of plastic continues to increase, with almost half of the plastic produced over the past 60-years manufactured in the last 13-years.
‘An estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic entered our oceans in 2010 alone, with around 40 per cent of plastics entering the waste stream in the same year they’re produced,’ Dr Finger said.
‘As a result of the growth in single-use consumer plastics, it’s estimated there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris.
‘Plastic pollution is a well-documented threat to wildlife and its potential impact on humans is a growing area of medical research.
Around 25 per cent of the rubbish (pictured) collected in the latest study were classified as disposable plastics, including straws, bags, and toothbrushes
It was central to his first published paper, which was the development of Coral reefs and his first book on the topic. The picture shows Dr Jennifer Lavers on a Cocos Islands beach
Tourism Australia’s ambassador named one of the islands as having the best beach in 2017.
The islands are lined with exotic palm trees while its turquoise waters offer world-class diving, snorkelling and excellent fishing.
Brad Farmer released a book crowning Cossies Beach in the Cocos Islands as the country’s top sandy shore and time he called it ‘near to perfect as a beach can be.
Often celebrated as ‘Heaven on Earth’ by travel writers, the sandy beaches of the Cocos islands are now scattered with 238 tonnes of plastic debris that include bottle caps, straws and flip-flops.
The remote islands are positioned between Australia and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean and only two of its 27 coral islands are inhabited. The image shows the rubbish found on its sandy beaches
Dr Finger added: ‘The scale of the problem means cleaning up our oceans is currently not possible, and cleaning beaches once they are polluted with plastic is time consuming, costly, and needs to be regularly repeated as thousands of new pieces of plastic wash up each day.
‘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,’ Dr Finger said.
The full report is published in the journal Scientific Reports