Plastic pollution: Aldabra in Indian Ocean has most waste ever seen on any island, say scientists

A vital refuge for rare wildlife has been polluted by the largest accumulation of plastic waste of any island on the planet.

Aldabra, a remote atoll in the Indian Ocean, has 513 tonnes of plastic washed up on its shore, including 360,000 flip-flops, according to researchers from the UK and Seychelles.

Sky News joined the team from The Queen’s College, University of Oxford, and the Seychelles Islands Foundation last year, as they removed 25 tonnes of marine plastic.

We saw turtles attempting to nest on beaches littered with an extraordinary number of flip-flops, bottles, lighters and other plastic debris that had been carried thousands of miles by ocean currents.

The three-week clean-up of Aldabra, described by Sir David Attenborough as one of the world’s last remaining natural treasures, underlined the logistical challenge of removing piles of plastic from remote islands.

New calculations by the team, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, suggest that despite the efforts of volunteers 95% of all the plastic is still on the island.

It would take a further 18,000 hours of labour to collect and take it by ship to the main Seychelles island group, 700 miles away, for proper disposal.

They estimate that would cost £3.6m.

April Burt, the lead researcher from the University of Oxford, told Sky News: “Imagine if one of the world’s most famous museums was covered in trash and this trash was degrading the value of the paintings.

“This is the same equivalent.

“These are issues that we are creating all around the world – this is not generated from within the Seychelles – so why should they have to pick up the bill?”

The giant Aldabra tortoises eat polystyrene foam washed up on the beaches, birds have been seen with the bills trapped shut by plastic bottle tops and tiny fragments are thought to have a detrimental effect on marine life on the surrounding coral reefs.

The bulk of the remaining plastic is nets discarded by industrial trawlers, some from Europe, who catch tuna in the Indian Ocean.

Last year, Sky News broadcast from 250 meters below the ocean’s surface to draw attention to the crisis facing our seas.

Jeremy Raguain, a conservationist with the Seychelles Islands Foundation, said the polluters should pay for the clean-up.

“At the end of the day it comes full circle.

“If the tuna you’re eating basically costs the environment, costs somewhere like Aldabra, it’s resilience and ecosystem services, you will also lose out in the long-run.

“It may not be today, but we’re starting to see that in the coming years.”

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Plastic waste from consumers is also piling up on Aldabra.

Labels on bottles show some of it comes from as far away as Indonesia and Taiwan.

Dr Lindsay Turnbull, another of the University of Oxford researchers, said: “As with the climate crisis, small island states are at the frontline in dealing with the impacts of actions in which they played very little part.

“It is time this inequality was addressed with direct financial assistance to rectify and ameliorate these threats.”

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