Oceanic plastic rubbish hosts marine life
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the unlikely home for a range of normally coastal-dwelling species
Nature abhors a vacuum. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a vast mass of floating plastic debris concentrated by ocean currents – is being colonised by animals and plants. But new research reveals they have surprising origins.
Published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, the study found that 80 per cent of the organisms attached to the plastics – including molluscs, crustaceans and anemones – were species normally associated with coastal habitats rather than open-water ones, despite being thousands of miles from land. There was also evidence that many of the species are successfully reproducing in the garbage patch.
According to Linsey Haram, who led the research at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the findings raise many questions, such as how the organisms are getting there, what they are feeding on and whether they are now competing with open-ocean species.
Neither is it clear that the situation is beneficial to the organisms colonising this area. “We have evidence that they are growing more slowly than they do on the coast,” says Haram. “It’s a double-edged sword, but it errs on the negative based on what we know about the effects on organisms of ingesting plastics.”
Main image: Orange-striped anemones were found living on the debris © Yale Peabody Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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