It’s an incredibly wild, desolate and beautiful spot, where few people have ever walked. But it’s not untouched by human activity. Far from it.
The man in the woolly hat, camera slung round his neck, is Tim Nunn – Ipswich born, Norfolk raised, photographer extraordinary. I’ll let him speak for himself for a moment.
“We’re on a beach in the western end of the Lofoten islands [off northern Norway]. It’s taken us a good couple of hours to hike into it. There are more remote ones, but there aren’t many.
“It’s basically the end of the Gulf Stream, so anything that ends up in the sea right from the coast of America can end up here. There’s such a massive assortment of plastic. It’s all the way along the beach – tyres, water bottles… children’s toys… ”
You can see the rubbish strewn behind him. There is sand, but it’s basically a beach of washed-up garbage. And this far-flung place is not unusual. “It doesn’t matter how many beaches I go to, it just gets more and more shocking.”
“I’ve spent the last 10 years or so just exploring and photographing some of the remotest coastlines of the North Atlantic,” he says. “Over this time I’ve seen a big shift from a lot of these coastlines being generally quite pristine to being really badly affected by rubbish, especially plastic.
“This goes for places which are close to big population centres or the very remotest Arctic beaches.”
My mother remembered meeting as a student around 1940 a young researcher who was highly excited about the new materials he was helping to develop in a Cambridge laboratory. Materials he was sure would have a profound effect on the world we live in.
He was right, of course – their effect would be profound. For good, in some ways. For convenience, certainly. But also in ways he surely didn’t foresee.
Those materials were plastics. They have gone within a lifetime from new and exciting to a blight upon every part of our planet.
Plastic litters our streets, our parks, our roadsides. It lines the stomachs and enmeshes the legs and beaks of wild creatures everywhere. It makes giant floating gyres of brightly coloured flotsam in the distant ocean. It makes beaches of coloured plastic sand.
Henderson Island, a tiny, uninhabited coral atoll in the South Pacific, is more than 3,000 miles from the nearest major centre of human habitation. You can’t get much more remote. Yet its beaches are littered with around 38 million bits of rubbish, almost 18 tonnes of it. It comes from everywhere there are people, and it’s 99.8 per cent plastic.
Tim Nunn is among those documenting the answer to that vital question.
“I wanted to turn my photography to doing something about this, not only by inspiring people to see what an incredible world we live in, but also to start people realising what an effect our everyday actions have on the ocean.” He’s an inspiring sort of guy is Tim, and he talks a lot about inspiration.
“If we can inspire people and make them love the planet,” he says, “we can start a movement that will change the world.”