On a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, the amount of plastic waste heavily outnumbers the number of people.
On the other side of the world, in the Mediterranean Sea, an island of plastic has emerged.
The images offer a glimpse of just how much plastic is resting in our waters.
On the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, researchers have determined over 414-million pieces of plastic have washed up on shore — a number that couldn’t have been reached by the 600 inhabitants alone.
“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 [sandals],” Jennifer Lavers, a Canadian research scientist working at the University of Tasmania, said in a release.
There were nearly a million shoes and another 373,000 toothbrushes.
In the Mediterranean, off the coast of Corsica Island, the island of floating plastic and garbage is several dozen kilometres long.
It’s a small island compared to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is three times the size of France.
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Researchers say that the currents in the Mediterranean mean the plastic congregates in the area in the summer, and this island could disperse in the coming weeks.
But that doesn’t lessen the threat.
“The problem, in the end, is that this plastic will accumulate in the tissues of fish, will diffuse its toxic products and we will eat these fish,” marine advocate Océane Couturier told French radio station France Blue.
Last year, the World Wildlife Fund warned that the Mediterranean Sea could become a “sea of plastic.”
“Plastic represents 95 per cent of the waste floating in the Mediterranean and lying on its beaches,” a statement from WWF read at the time.
These snapshots of plastic pollution are a warning, Lavers 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,” Lavers said.
As global plastic consumption increases, the medical effects of the pollution will start to emerge, said Annett Finger of Australia’s University of Victoria, who worked with Lavers on the study about the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
“Plastic pollution is a well-documented threat to wildlife and its potential impact on humans is a growing area of medical research,” Finger said in the release.
“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.”
On both land and at sea the fight reduce and clean up plastic pollution is ongoing.
On both land and at sea, the fight to reduce and clean up plastic pollution is ongoing.
Efforts can be local (for example, in Shanghai, China, the city has banned hotels from providing single-use plastic like toothbrushes) or global (such as a UN pact to better regulate the plastics industry).
But the fight is not easy. The multimillion-dollar Ocean Cleanup project launched a large floating device designed to suck up and remove garbage from the Pacific last year, but its maiden voyage quickly failed. Engineers vowed to improve their design and try again.
In Canada, the government plans to collect, reuse or recycle at least 75 per cent of our plastic waste by 2030.
Late last year, the government announced a $12-million fund to help find innovative ways to better manage plastic in the country.