The beach of the Pacific Ocean was as wild and remote as you could hope for. You really get a sense of being on the edge of something vast. There is no gentle lapping of waves, they crash in relentlessly whatever the weather, the distance between the low and high tides being merely 50 metres or so. The forest comes right down to the beach where the coconut palms drop their fruit onto the sand and hermit crabs scuttle by the thousand amongst the driftwood.
But if you look closer at the dark grey volcanic sand, along the high tide line this is what you find:
While this is not strictly 'microplastic' is marks one stage in the process. Plastic waste that is dumped in the oceans gradually breaks down due to degradation by sunlight and the action of waves, and it becomes these tiny pieces of plastic that now exist everywhere in the world's oceans. Other forms of microplastic are abrasives and exfoliants deliberately manufactured as tiny pieces (and entering the oceans via the water cycle) and microscopic pieces from artificial fibres. The bacteria in the sea that break down organic substances cannot deal with plastics. While it is well known that large pieces of plastic are a danger to marine life and seabirds, who consume it or get tangled in it, these pieces of plastic are so small that they can then enter the food chain, with currently poorly understood consequences for animal and human health. The 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' is not actually a floating island of plastic, but an area of concentration of microplastic, brought about by currents that keep them concentrated in a specific area.
On our way back from one of our hikes mum and I litter picked the few hundred yards of beach leading back to the lodge. In a way I was surprised by how little there was. Because the place was deserted there was no dropped litter, this is entirely plastic that has been washed up on the tide. It felt like a small thing we could do to contribute, though quite literally a drop in the ocean.