Thousands of pieces of plastic waste from around the world have washed up on a remote island in the South Atlantic, according to conservationists.
Litter found on Ascension Island’s southwest coast can be traced back to countries such as China, Japan and South Africa, they say.
The team from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has spent five weeks assessing the extent of plastic pollution there.
More than 900 species of marine life are at risk, they reported.
Ascension Island has a wealth of native species that have been affected by plastic pollution, such as the land crab, the frigatebird and several species of sharks, turtles, fish and seabirds.
The remote British-owned island has been the subject of many plans aimed at conserving natural biodiversity, launched by both the government and independent groups.
“Too much plastic is being misused,” Fiona Llewellyn, a marine biologist with the ZSL Marine conservation team, told the BBC.
“It was heartbreaking to see the state of the plastic there,” she said, adding that major brands and governments had to be held accountable for the mess.
Ms Llewellyn and her fellow researchers found 1,000 pieces of plastic waste in just one beach hut and more than 7,000 pieces in total during the expedition.
The small island, with only 800 inhabitants, is concerned about the crisis. Only a small amount of plastic that washes up on the shores comes from the island itself. Ms Llewellyn said: “It’s easy to see most of it coming from elsewhere.”
Animals swallow the plastic and become entangled in it, which can cause damage. There are growing concerns about microplastics and how they make their way up the food chain.
The types of plastic that are common on the coast of the island are plastic bottles, hard plastic fragments that have broken, fishing gear and cigarette butts.
Much of the waste ends up on rugged cliffs that are difficult and dangerous to access. “It was really challenging to stumble down the cliff faces to get to this shoreline and count all the plastic that was there,” she said.
The ZSL Marine conservation team worked with the wildlife conservation team from the Government of Ascension Island, St Helena National Trust, the Government of St Helena, the University of Exeter and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela University to tackle plastic pollution.
The overall project will take three years and involves monitoring the flow and movement of the water, identifying the plastic bottles and assessing their use-by and date of manufacture to distinguish when they entered the water and from where.