The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now so massive and enduring that the coastal ecosystem thrives on it

(CNN) Scientists have discovered thriving communities of coastal creatures, including tiny crabs and sea anemones, living thousands of miles from their native habitat in plastic debris In the A large garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean A 620,000-square-mile garbage vortex in the ocean between California and Hawaii.

in a new way Stady Published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday, a team of researchers reveals that dozens of species of coastal invertebrates have been able to survive and reproduce on plastic trash floating in the ocean for years.

Scientists said the findings suggest that plastic pollution in the ocean may enable the creation of new floating ecosystems for species that normally cannot survive in the open ocean.

Unlike organic matter that decomposes and sinks in a matter of months or, at most, a few years, plastic debris can float in the oceans for much longer, giving creatures the opportunity to survive and reproduce in the open ocean for years.

“It was amazing to see how frequent the coastal species were. They were on 70 percent of the wrecks that we found,” Lynsey Haram, scientific fellow at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and lead author of the study, told CNN.

Hurm and her colleagues examined 105 plastics caught from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between November 2018 and January 2019. They identified 484 marine invertebrates on the wreck, representing 46 different species, 80% of which are typically found in coastal habitats. .

“A very large percentage of the diversity that we found were coastal species and not the local pelagic ocean species that we were pretty much expecting to find,” Haram said.

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Harem added that they are still finding plenty of open ocean species. “On two-thirds of the debris, we find both communities together… competing for space, but very likely interacting in other ways.”

Coastal anemones were found along with pelagic (open ocean) barnacles and sea cows in an abandoned fish cage recovered from the subtropical circulation in the North Pacific Ocean.

Coast anemones are found clustered on a floating piece of black plastic that has been collected in the garbage patch.

Haram said the consequences of introducing new species to remote regions of the ocean are not yet fully understood.

“There’s probably competition for space, because space has a high profile in the open ocean, and there’s probably competition for food resources — but they might also be eating each other. It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on, but we’ve seen evidence of some sea anemones.” Coastal eating species from the open ocean, so we know there is some predation between the two communities.”

How exactly the creatures get to the open ocean and how they survive there remains unclear. Whether, for example, they were just riding a ride on a piece of plastic they nailed to the coast, or whether they were able to colonize new creatures once they were in the open ocean, is unknown.

Oceans of plastic

The Great Pacific Garbage PatchAnd It is twice the size of Texas, and is the largest accumulation of oceanic plastic in the world.

The patch is surrounded by a colossal whirlpool – The five largest massive circular currents in the world’s oceans pull garbage towards the center and trap it there, creating a garbage vortex.

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It’s a mistake to think of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a trash island, though, Matthias Egger, head of environmental and social affairs at The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit developing technologies to rid the oceans of plastic, told CNN.

“If you’re up there, what you see is just a pure blue ocean,” said Egger, who assisted the pyramid’s research by collecting specimens in the patch, catching them with a net.

“You can think of it like the night sky. If you look up at night, you’ll see all those white dots, and that’s basically what you see in a garbage patch. It’s not that dense, but there’s a lot of it… There, you start to see more and more of Plastic the longer you look.”

The Ocean Clean-up Initiative estimates that there are about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the swath, which weighs an estimated 80,000 tons. The majority of the plastic in the patch comes from the fishing industry, while between 10% and 20% of the total volume can be traced back to the 2011 Japanese tsunami.

A bag of plastic and debris collected at the Greater Pacific Garbage Spot in Sausalito, California in July 2022 is unloaded.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the world produces about 460 million tons of plastic annually, a figure that – without urgent action – It will triple by 2060.

Globally, only about 9% of plastic waste is recycled, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Up to 22% of all plastic waste is mismanaged and ends up as trash, with large amounts eventually reaching the oceans.

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Scientists warned that A “Fast and unprecedented” Increased ocean plastic pollution since 2005.

“The problem is getting wider over time,” Egger said. “We see Tangled Turtles in ghost fishing nets. Sometimes it’s just turtle carcasses. We see plastic fragments swallowed. Then there are also the pollutants — the chemicals. “

Ocean Cleanup has built a massive garbage collection system, a U-shaped barrier with a net-like skirt that hangs below the surface of the water. It moves with the current and collects fast-moving plastics as it floats.

“We want to look at the impact of this on marine life. Once we know for sure that it is safe and that it benefits the environment, then we want to expand,” Egger said.

But cleaning is only part of the solution. study published He said last month that without urgent policy action, the rate at which plastics enter the oceans could increase by about 2.6 times between now and 2040.

The United Nations Environment Assembly approved a Historic decision last year to end plastic pollution and create the first global treaty on plastic pollution by 2024 – a legally binding agreement that addresses the full life cycle of plastic, from its production and design to its disposal.

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