by Alexandra Rose of BlueRing.blue
Getting ready to travel to the most remote atoll in the world, I thought I knew what to expect. On calm seas, Clipperton is a 96-hour commute from land. It is a ring-shaped coral reef formed by an extinct volcano with a lagoon in the centre where the caldera used to be. Because of the shape of the island, huge breakers crash along the shore, making it extremely challenging to land or launch a Zodiac. But one thing that had absolutely no trouble reaching the island was plastic.
Some debris is of course expected, but I was shocked by the intense level of plastic pollution visible everywhere on Clipperton. We dump about 8 million tons of plastic into our world ocean annually and it is estimated that if we stay on our current trajectory there will be a larger volume of plastic than fish in the ocean by mid century. I have never been hit so profoundly by the illustration of these statistics than when I took my first steps onto the most remote atoll in the world and could not move my feet without stepping on plastic. Humans have not thrown plastic refuse directly onto Clipperton Island, but by improperly disposing of it and indulging in the single use plastic bonanza in which we currently find ourselves, we might as well have done exactly that. And I am not talking about just the usual plastic bottles and stray flip-flops. This plastic ranged from refrigerators to razors, from trinkets to toothbrushes, from medical waste to micro plastics. Every shape, size, colour, and variety of plastic you can think of, all represented on one island that has not been inhabited since before the plastic revolution even seriously took off during WWII.
Clipperton Atoll is a ruggedly enchanting place with a volatile history, a harsh equatorial climate, and a staggering marine debris problem. The story of its natural beauty marred by one of the many harmful by-products of human progress is one that must inspire ways to preserve and protect the more remote parts of our planet. Inaccessibility has not kept it safe from anthropogenic pollution, but through exploration, research, and outreach, we can start to change that narrative to reflect a cleaner and more sustainable future.