A few weeks ago we received a fascinating image of one of our wallets on Henderson Island. Its owner (James Beard), an Elvis & Kresse fan, was letting us know that he had taken our wallet on an incredible journey to clean Henderson's beaches. We asked James to share his story. All I can say is wow and try not to cry... we all need to do so much better to protect and care for our home.
"Although I’ve always been interested in the environment, my interest in sustainability issues has grown as I have got older. In part this has been fostered by my role at Valpak where I work on environmental issues every day, and it was through my colleague, Emily, that I first heard about Elvis & Kresse (Emily is the proud owner of an E&K Rucksack). Through my work in waste management and environmental consulting I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to take part in a very special project this summer.
Despite being uninhabited and located thousands of miles from the nearest continental landmass, research conducted in 2015 found Henderson Island in the South Pacific to be the most densely polluted beach on the planet. 99.8% of that pollution is plastic. We arrived there on the 8th of June 2019 – World Ocean Day. Our expedition team was a mix of scientists, artists, journalists and “beach cleaners” which is where I came into it. Our aim was to clear the Island’s East Beach of all plastic greater than the size of a bottle top, analyse each item to work out what type of plastic it was and to deduce the possible origin, and then to set up cameras which would remain on the island long after our departure to monitor the inevitable return of more plastic to replace what we had cleared. It is anticipated that all of what we cleared would be replaced within 5 or 6 years.
After a week’s travelling from the UK I finally arrived at Henderson Island. The plan was to land on East Beach via a rigid-hulled inflatable boat each day to do the clean-up. However, due to prevailing winds and large swell it became impossible for us to safely land on East Beach itself. Instead we had to arrive at the more accessible North Beach and then hike across from there. There was no path on the uninhabited atoll, so the team had to create one by cutting back the dense vegetation. The journey from North to East was roughly a 90-minute hike each way and involved wading around headlands, climbing cliffs and trekking across razor sharp corals. This added a huge amount of extra physical exertion onto an already grueling day of picking and documenting the waste.
Whilst the science team conducted their research, the visible impacts of the plastic on the local nature became clear. Prior to the expedition I had seen photos of turtle tracks crossing the plastic to reach the nesting grounds and whilst there we saw first-hand the impact plastic can have; we found a baby turtle which had become trapped in a plastic container which unfortunately didn’t survive. We saw birds pick up plastic as if to see if it was food, and we saw nets and ropes snagged on the reef and cliffs. Henderson Island contains a huge volume of things that simply don’t belong there, it was incredibly sad to see.
One of the more unusual items we came across during the clean-up was a glass fishing float which was most likely made in Japan in the 1940s. Fishing equipment was a sizeable proportion of what we found and included buoys, nets, ropes, crates and lures. This is particularly concerning as Henderson Island is in the middle of one of the wold’s largest Marine Protected Areas, where commercial fishing is prohibited. Prior to the expedition I had never come across the term Fishing Aggregation Device (FAD), but I am now acutely aware of the damage they cause. Up to 121,000 of these large devices are launched each year with a view to attracting large fish thus making the catch easier. Unfortunately, they can easily drift ashore where they can get caught on reefs. Pitcairn is now looking at whether it is possible to track the source of these FADs and prosecute the owners.
After 11 days, 351 man-hours and a total of 151 hours spent hiking across the island the team had collected 6,000kg of waste from the 2.25k long East Beach and a further 250kg from two other beaches and the reef around Henderson Island. And yet despite our efforts, all of that waste is still on the island. Due to the large swells and rough seas, it wasn’t possible to remove much plastic and
as such it will have to wait until a later date to be retrieved. For me this is the most damning fact about marine pollution; Despite a dedicated team comprised of international experts, it simply isn’t possible to clean up many of these remote places. Clean ups paired with research can help raise awareness and educate, but our attention must turn to preventing waste from entering the oceans, and this is where the work conducted by the likes of Elvis & Kresse is so important.
By making informed choices regarding what we buy and choosing items that have been given a second life we can all do our bit. Every member of the team contributed significant resource to help plan, coordinate and deliver the
expedition. It is also recognised that specific individuals and institutions made financial donations to the expedition, without which it could not have taken place These include: Valpak, Toughsheet Environmental, the Pew Trusts, CEFAS, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Blue Belt Team and Pitcairn Island Office), Architectural and Community Planning Inc, the Zoological Society of London, Howell Conservation Fund and Schwab International. A special thanks to the Pitcairn community and its Mayor Shawn Christian, without their support and ambition the expedition would not have been possible."
Note: Valpak is the UK’s leading provider of environmental compliance, helping businesses meet their legal obligations in fields of packaging, electronics, batteries and waste management.
You can see James' journey through videos and images taken throughout the beach clean via the Instagram Account @henderson_beach_clean