(CN) – A new study released Thursday reports that the beaches of Australian islands are littered with an alarming volume of plastic debris.
The report, published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports, surveyed the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and found roughly 414 million pieces of plastic waste have washed up unto the islands’ beaches. Among this inventory includes an estimated 977,000 shoes, 373,000 toothbrushes, and millions of other various plastic-based items.
Jennifer Lavers, lead researcher of the study, suggests that these are troubling numbers due to the remote nature of the islands. With their limited human presence – a population of around 600 – the debris washing up on the shores of the isolated regions inform us on just how much trash is circulating around the Earth’s oceans.
The study reports that with millions of tons of plastics being produced and deposited into the oceans each year, the kinds of numbers being observed in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands could easily worsen over time.
Researchers find that the issues associated with plastic debris can have a major impact on the survival of local ecosystems. Lavers points out that this kind of waste “interferes with bacterial growth and survival” and that such bacteria are “relevant to climate because they are the key species that produce oxygen in the ocean.”
She as well suggests that such plastic washing up on beaches can pose threats to the overall global climate.
She said the documentation that has been done on the relationship between plastic and climate finds that “plastic debris exposed to UV sunlight on beaches emits ethylene, methane and propane, even at low temperatures that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.”
Data shows that solutions to this problem are becoming increasingly problematic. With the sheer volume of plastic populating the ocean, the ability to cleanse the ocean completely is no longer a viable option. Clearing beaches like the ones on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, meanwhile, can be expensive and labor intensive.
Researchers said that improved waste management and a reduction of plastic production serve as the most viable answers to this issue moving forward.