Coastal species have found ways to survive on floating trash in the open ocean.
Of course, ideally there wouldn’t be any plastic polluting the sea to begin with. However, it seems some marine life has been making the best of a pretty bleak situation.
Species have been found growing on the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, an area of trash located in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, hundreds of miles out to sea.
And not only that, but the species have been colonizing and forming new communities, leading to an impressive number being found riding the waves on their new found garbage homes, according to scientists.
Senior scientist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, Greg Ruiz, said more than 40 coastal species have been found clinging to the trash, NBC News reports.
From barnacles to mussels, and even amphipods similar to shrimp, the plastic garbage has provided a sturdier ship for the species than previous disintegrating logs and seaweed.
The species are now able to form their own habitats on the debris, with the open ocean offering them a plentiful and diverse all-you-can-eat-buffet to keep them content and thriving.
‘It’s almost like a new island has emerged [which] represents a paradigm shift of what we thought was possible,’ Ruiz explained.
Ruiz and other researchers, partnered with the Ocean Voyages Institute, have been left eager to find out more about how such communities of species develop, function, and what effect such islands of trash could have on more dangerous and even faster-spreading species.
Previous ideas that coastal ecosystems are better for species have been further distilled by this discovery, after it was revealed that the open ocean holds even more nutrient-rich foods than the coast.
The study builds on results from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan which saw plastic wash into the Pacific only to return 18 months later, proving the habitability and prosperity of the open seas.
In the debris, multiple generations of coastal species were uncovered.
Furthermore, species from the coast had even joined together with some from the ocean, giving birth to a new community altogether, which could affect the food chain system.
Ruiz concluded: ‘The rate of revolutionary change could be quite rapid. […] The more invasions you have, the more likely you’ll have a species come in that’s impactful.’
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