Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on Pacific island

Henderson Island. (Google map)
Updated 16 May 2017

Scientists find 38 million pieces of trash on Pacific island

NEW ZEALAND: When researchers traveled to a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they were astonished to find an estimated 38 million pieces of trash washed up on the beaches.
Almost all of the garbage they found on Henderson Island was made from plastic. There were toy soldiers, dominos, toothbrushes and hundreds of hardhats of every shape, size and color.
The researchers say the density of trash was the highest recorded anywhere in the world, despite Henderson Island’s extreme remoteness. The island is located about halfway between New Zealand and Chile and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Jennifer Lavers, a research scientist at Australia’s University of Tasmania, was lead author of the report, which was published Tuesday in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
Lavers said Henderson Island is at the edge of a vortex of ocean currents known as the South Pacific gyre, which tends to capture and hold floating trash.
“The quantity of plastic there is truly alarming,” Lavers told The Associated Press. “It’s both beautiful and terrifying.”
She said she sometimes found herself getting mesmerized by the variety and colors of the plastic that litters the island before the tragedy of it would sink in again.
Lavers and six others stayed on the island for 3½ months in 2015 while conducting the study. They found the trash weighed an estimated 17.6 tons and that more than two-thirds of it was buried in shallow sediment on the beaches.
Lavers said she noticed green toy soldiers that looked identical to those her brother played with as a child in the early 1980s, as well as red motels from the Monopoly board game.
She said the most common items they found were cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. One of the strangest was a baby pacifier.
She said they found a sea turtle that had died after getting caught in an abandoned fishing net and a crab that was living in a cosmetics container.
By clearing a part of a beach of trash and then watching new pieces accumulate, Lavers said they were able to estimate that more than 13,000 pieces of trash wash up every day on the island, which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) long and 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide.
Henderson Island is part of the Pitcairn Islands group, a British dependency. It is so remote that Lavers said she missed her own wedding after the boat coming to collect the group was delayed.
Luckily, she said, the guests were still in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, when she showed up three days late, and she still got married.
Lavers said she is so appalled by the amount of plastic in the oceans that she has taken to using a bamboo iPhone case and toothbrush.
“We need to drastically rethink our relationship with plastic,” she said. “It’s something that’s designed to last forever, but is often only used for a few fleeting moments and then tossed away.”
Melissa Bowen, an oceanographer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who was not involved in the study, said that winds and currents in the gyre cause the buildup of plastic items on places like Henderson Island.
“As we get more and more of these types of studies, it is bringing home the reality of plastic in the oceans,” Bowen said.


US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

Updated 6 min 42 sec ago

US ‘cloud’ supremacy has Europe worried about data

PARIS: Europe is sitting on a wealth of data that is the 21st century equivalent of a precious metal mine during the gold rush.
But instead of exploiting it themselves Europeans may be allowing American tech giants to gain control of all the excavation equipment, some experts say, pointing to a flurry of European companies announcing deals with US tech players for cloud services.
Renault, Orange, Deutsche Bank, and Lufthansa recently plumped for Google Cloud. Volkswagen signed up with Amazon Web Services. The French health ministry chose Microsoft to house its research data.
The cloud is a term for offering data storage and processing services externally so clients don’t need to invest as much in costly gear.
This trend has sparked concern particularly in Germany, which has a rich trove of data thanks to its powerful industrial sector.
The EU is “losing its influence in the digital sphere at the moment it is taking a central role in the continent’s economy” warned a recent report by a group of experts and media leaders under the leadership of the former head of German software firm SAP, Henning Kagermann.
“The majority of European data is stocked outside of Europe, or, if stocked in Europe, is on servers that belong to non-European firms,” it noted.

A senior French official recently delivered an even more blunt assessment in a meeting with IT professionals.
“We have an enormous security and sovereignty issue with clouds” said the official at the meeting, which AFP attended on the condition of respecting the anonymity of participants.
“In many cases it is convenience or a sellout” by European companies and institutions “because it is simpler” to sign up with US tech giants than find European options, said the official.
“However we have very good firms offering cloud and data services,” he added.
One of the causes of concern for Europeans comes from the Cloud Act, a piece of legislation adopted in 2018 that gives US intelligence agencies access in certain cases to data hosted by US firms, no matter where the server may be physically located.
“My company is American and I know very well what the implications are of the legislation,” said a Franco-American executive.
“And given what is happening in US policy debates, that situation won’t be getting better.”
Beyond the integrity of data, it is the capacity to analyze and exploit that information that worries many European experts and policymakers.

If in Europe “we are just capable of generating data and need others to exploit it then we are going to end up in the same situation as countries with mineral resources that rely on others to process it and end up with meagre economic benefits,” said the French official.
The French and Germans unveiled in June the GAIA-X project that aims to develop a competitive European cloud offer.
Rather than encourage the development of a European champion — in the mold of Airbus in response to Boeing — that would offer the full gamut of services, the project takes a different tack.
It aims to set standards so different firms could offer storage, processing, security and artificial intelligence services seamlessly. It would operate as a marketplace of sorts where each client could find the services they need without having to leave European jurisdiction.
It is hoped GAIA-X’s decentralized model might prove a better fit with the issues raised by treatment of data from connected devices.