Assessing plastic size distribution and quantity on a remote island in the South Pacific

Emma C. Nichols, Jennifer L. Lavers, Simeon Archer-Rand, Alexander L. Bond

Plastics are an environmental threat; however, their fate once in the pelagic environment is poorly known. We compare results from assessments of floating plastics in the South Pacific Ocean with accumulated beach plastics from Henderson Island.

We also compare accumulated plastic mass on Henderson during 2015 and 2019 and investigate the presence of nanoplastics. There were differences between the size classes of beach and pelagic plastics, and an increase in microplastics (0.33–5 mm) on the beach between 2015 and 2019. Micro- and nanoplastics were found at all sites (mean ± SE: 1960 ± 356 pieces/kg dw).

Across the whole beach this translates to >4 billion plastic particles in the upper 5 cm. This is concerning, particularly given Henderson is uninhabited and distant from urban centres (~2350 km from Pape'ete, French Polynesia). The vast number of small particles on Henderson may make nearshore filter feeders susceptible to ingestion and subsequent detrimental impacts.