Tern Island is a tiny coral island located in the Northwesten Hawaiian Islands, approximately 490 miles west, north west of Oahu. The island provides a breeding habitat to millions of nesting seabirds, threatened Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, and endangered Hawaiian Monk Seals.
However, the EPA has announced that the remote island may be listed as the country’s most hazardous sites due the amount of plastic debris littered throughout the island. The EPA’s announcement is a response the a petition filed in 2012 by the Center for Biological Diversity asking the EPA to consider listing a 1,200-mile span of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a federal Superfund site because of the amount of plastic debris that floats on ocean currents and washes ashore.
The islands lie in part of what has been popularly dubbed, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
In a letter to the environmental group, the EPA said it would study Tern Island, part of a coral reef atoll about 550 miles northwest of Honolulu that is a breeding ground for millions of seabirds, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
"The EPA intends to evaluate potential and observed releases of hazardous substances from Tern Island, including hazardous substances that absorb to plastic marine debris in the surrounding surface water," EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld wrote.
The study, known as a preliminary assessment, is an initial data collection effort to determine whether the site threatens human health or the environment.
Environmentalists applauded the EPA's announcement.
The decision to study Tern Island is "an incredibly important first step towards understanding the hazards plastic pollution poses to wildlife," Emily Jeffers, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said.
Tern Island and its surrounded reefs make up one of the largest tropical seabird nesting grounds in the world and is also home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals and threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles.