Henderson Island Expedition - June 2019
On 8th June (World Ocean Day) a multidisciplinary team arrived on Henderson Island – one of four islands making up the Pitcairn Archipelago – to undertake a two-week research expedition. Although the 42.7 km2 uninhabited island sits over 5,000 kilometres from the nearest landmass and is part of the Pitcairn Island Marine Reserve – East Beach was found by scientists in 2017 to be the most densely plastic polluted beach on the planet.
The overarching objective of this 2019 expedition – driven by the Pitcairn Island community and coordinated by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in collaboration with the Pew Trusts – was to study, research, and clean-up the estimated 10 tonnes of pollution on East Beach from this stunning United Nations World Heritage Site and ecological hotspot on which plastic has been deposited – to shine a light on the issue of global ocean pollution and on the beauty and draw of the Pitcairn Island Marine Reserve.
Adverse weather conditions, and the inability to land on East Beach by RIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) due to prevailing winds and swell, posed a significant problem for the expedition. It was necessary to cut a path through jungle, from the North side of the island and to travel to East Beach over the plateaux each day on foot, covering over 100km in total and including having to climb 300ft coral cliffs at either side.
“It has been one of the most incredible opportunities of my life to have been part of the Henderson Island Expedition 2019. A team of 12 - scientists, filmmakers, clean-up crew, divers and journalists, all with the aim to engage the world with the plastic pollution crisis from this remote uninhabited location. It has been hard, and not without incident - coping with South Pacific winter swells, judging reefs that surround this testing wilderness - all going to prove why Henderson is known as the ‘inaccessible’ island. Climbing up and down coral cliffs by rope, trekking across a machete made forest coral path, navigating headlands in waist high tides was not the original plan, but when there is no other way, there is nothing like being pushed to your limits. But thanks to the decisions and leadership of Robin Shackell the team are now all able to go on to communicate the experience in our different ways.
Now back on dry land I am looking forward to the vital scientific research that will come together in the coming months to highlight the issue of this remarkable - but unfortunately named as one of the most plastic polluted areas on the planet. It is a great pity we had to visit for this reason, but one that I am dedicated to represent…
NEW WORK IN PROGESS
Thank you to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Pitcairn Island Council for their support.
To the organisations that made this expedition possible for me; Pew Trusts, Valpak, Blue Belt Programme (UK Government), and Toughsheet Environmental, and especially thanks to the warm welcome from the residents of Pitcairn, and the crew of the ship, Silver Supporter.
“Henderson Island Plastic Pollution Expedition 2019 honoured with ‘Flag Expedition’ of The Explorers Club”
Incredibly proud that our expedition to Henderson Island has been awarded the title of ‘Explorers Club Flag Expedition’, of which there are only 3-5 awarded each year. Others include Apollo 11 and the dive to Challenger Deep. An incredible accomplishment when nothing went to plan and the expedition was turned on its head. Here's most of the team with our Expedition Flag #97 on Northwest Beach, Henderson Island – one of the most remote places on the planet.
“Since 1918, the flag has been carried to all of the Earth’s continents, as well as under the sea and into the stars”.
A significant achievement that details of the expedition, including marine plastic pollution data, will now become part of The Explorer Club’s archives and be accessible to other modern-day explorers and scholars.