Henderson Island, a South Pacific island that has never been inhabited, is what a researcher calls "one of the most pristine islands left in the world," per Popular Science. It's also one of the most polluted, home to an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic waste and other garbage over its 14 square miles; in some places, there were as many as 62 pieces per square foot. That's the highest density of trash ever reported in nature, say researchers, who spent three months on Henderson Island in 2015 and estimate some 3,750 new pieces of trash float onto its north beach each day, reports Live Science. "The sheer volume really took my breath away for all the wrong reasons," study author Jennifer Lavers tells the Atlantic. "I don't think I've stood somewhere and been so utterly and completely surrounded by plastic."
The debris—including fishing line, hardhats, toothbrushes, razors, lighters, and other "disposable or single-use" items that the researchers sourced to every continent but Antarctica—isn't just ugly, reports the BBC. It has put two species of seabird at risk, "creates a physical barrier on beaches to animals such as sea turtles, and lowers the diversity of shoreline invertebrates," says Lavers, who saw a dead sea turtle wrapped in fishing line and hermit crabs making homes in bottle caps. She adds "clean-up is not an option" given the island's remote location and its inhospitable nature: There's no fresh water, and its sharp rocks cut into the researchers' footwear. And the problem is likely worse than these numbers indicate, as the team's sampling only took into account items larger than 0.08 inches and found in the top 4 inches of sand. (There's also plastic in the Arctic.)