The grave potential impact of remote islands littered with plastic waste

UTAS study shows plastic waste on beaches causing temperature increase

National News
A hermit crab in a washed up plastic tub on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Picture: Silke Stuckenbrock/Supplied

A hermit crab in a washed up plastic tub on Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Picture: Silke Stuckenbrock/Supplied

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Pacific Islands with countless pieces of plastic waste washed up on the shore exhibit temperature rises with far ranging impacts.

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Some of the most remote islands in the world have accumulated enough plastic on their beaches it is causing the sand to heat up, a new study has found.

The groundbreaking study out of the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies looked at plastic debris on Henderson Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands and found the beach sands were almost three degrees hotter as a result of the rubbish.

Henderson Island is completely uninhabited and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands have a population of less than 600 people.

IMAS marine researcher Dr Jennifer Lavers, the lead researcher of the study, said the study further revealed the extent and severity of ocean plastic pollution.

"We found approximately 3kg of plastic per square metre on some of the beach surfaces of Henderson and Cocos Islands," she said.

"Accumulated plastics in beach sediments essentially alter thermal inputs and outputs like infrared radiation absorption, which causes temperature fluctuations that can have a significant effect on terrestrial ectotherms like crabs and turtles.

"Ectotherms are animals that depend on external sources of body heat and they are vital for healthy beach habitats, but many have narrow thermal tolerance limits."

The study showed the daily maximum recorded temperature increase was 2.45 degrees. It said future climate scenarios has illustrated a rise of more than 2.8 degrees could cause local animal extinction levels of almost 95 per cent.

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Dr Lavers has been researching the impacts of ocean plastic pollution for 15 years and recently revealed last year was one of the worst years she had recorded for pollution levels.

She said the increasing amount of plastic pollution stemmed from plastic production across the world and would likely continue to exhibit a rise in plastic in the sea.

"With global plastic production currently doubling almost every decade, and much of the plastic debris that accumulates in our oceans eventually making its way onto beaches around the world," she said.

"The low and moderate debris loads we observed on Henderson and Cocos are likely to transition to high debris over the next few decades.

"Clearly further study into the physical impacts of plastics on ecosystems is needed to understand the severity and scope of these issues, but we also need to make significant shifts in how we produce and manage plastic waste - and we need to do it urgently."

The study was published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials and was conducted by Dr Lavers along with Dr Jack Rivers-Auty and Dr Alexander Bond.

The story The grave potential impact of remote islands littered with plastic waste first appeared on The Examiner.

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