Scientists have found marine animals that are living in plastic debris in an area of open sea known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
Many of these creatures are coastal species , which have come to live miles from their usual habitats, in an area that lies between the coast of California (USA) and Hawaii.
Plants and animals, including anemones, small marine insects, molluscs and crabs, were found in 79% of the plastic pieces.
Scientists are concerned that plastic is helping to transport invasive species.
The study examined plastic items over 5 centimeters in diameter collected from a gyre — an area where circular currents cause debris to accumulate — in the Pacific.
The researcher leader, Linsey Haram, who led the work at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre, said: “Plastics are more permanent than many of the natural debris you used to see in the open sea. They are creating a more permanent habitat in this area.”
Haram worked with the Ocean Voyages Institute, an NGO that collects polluting plastics on marine expeditions, and with oceanographers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The world has at least five plastic-infested gyres. This Pacific region is believed to have the largest amount of plastic — about 79 thousand tons in a region with more 1.6 square kilometers.
“All sorts of things will end up there,” said Haram. “It’s not a plastic island, but there’s definitely a lot of plastic stuck there.”
A lot of this is microplastic — very hard to see with the naked eye. But there are also bigger items, including abandoned fishing nets, buoys and even boats that have been floating on the gyre since the tsunami in Japan in 2011.
The researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Nature Communications, began their investigation by analyzing the devastating tsunami. or.
The disaster caused tons of debris to be dumped into the Pacific Ocean, and hundreds of coastal Japanese species were seen alive in items that reached the Pacific coasts of North America and the Hawaiian Islands .
“We want to know how plastic can be a means of transport for invasive species,” Haram told BBC News. plastic were open-sea species—organisms that survive navigating on floating plastic. But the most impressive finding, says Haram, was the diversity of coastal species in the plastic.
“More than half of the items had coastal species in them,” she said. “This raises a lot of questions about what it means to be a coastal species.”
Scientists say the discovery sheds light on other “unintended consequences” of plastic pollution — a problem that only should grow.
A previous study estimated that a total of billion tons of plastic waste will have been generated by 2050.