The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Home To A Thriving Community Of Coastal Creatures

By - 427 words


Reading Level

Listen to Article

Plastic debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is home to many coastal species like crabs
(Credit: Linsey Haram/SERC Marine Invasions Lab)

Researchers have long known that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — the massive accumulation of plastic waste in the North Pacific Ocean — is home to a variety of sea life. However, they had assumed they were all open ocean inhabitants. Now, a new study has found that it also harbors a surprisingly large number of coastal marine species. They include crabs, sea anemones, and worms.

Marine ecologist Linsey Haram's curiosity about ocean plastic inhabitants began after the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. The debris that made its way to many west coast cities was carrying coastal creatures that were alive. This surprised scientists. They had always assumed that the difference in temperature, salinity, and available nutrients would make it hard for coastal species to survive in the open ocean.

To investigate further, Haram and her team from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center obtained 105 items from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They were collected by a nonprofit called The Ocean Cleanup in 2018 and 2019. The objects included buckets, crates, bottles, household items, ropes, and parts of fish traps.

The researchers found that 70 percent of the 484 separate marine organisms living on the debris were species usually found in coastal habitats. They are not sure how they made it out so far. The organisms may have attached themselves to the trash on the coast and eventually floated to the deep sea.

Haram's team noticed that two-thirds of the time, the coastal and open-ocean species lived on the same trash pile. They competed for food and even ate each other. The scientists observed a spotted coastal anemone eating a purple snail native to the open ocean.

This fish crate found in the Pacific Ocean was home to open-sea animals and coastal anemones
(Credit: Linsey Haram/ Smithsonian)

Haram and her team revealed their findings in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution on April 17, 2023. They believe the high number of coastal species in the open ocean may have unknown consequences on the ocean ecosystems.

Sabine Rech, a marine biologist with the Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile, agrees. "I was surprised that they saw such high numbers of coastal species," she says. "Beyond the surprise, I think the implications could be huge."

Rech was not part of the recent study. But she and her colleagues did a similar survey of marine life on ocean garbage in the South Pacific. However, they did not find such a diverse range of coastal life on it. Rech thinks the harsher, nutrient-poor environment in the South Pacific may make it harder for the creatures to survive. There may also not be as many coastal species in the South Pacific.



Get the Workbook for this article!

Workbook contains: Article, Reading Comprehension, Critical Thinking Questions, Vocabulary in Context (+ answers), Multiple Choice Quiz (+ answers), Parts of Speech Quiz (+ answers), Vocabulary Game (+ answers)
Cite Article
Learn Keywords in this Article
  • tohiwavo-161617710356
    people don't know how much it hurts ocean animals:\
  • vomybuzy-161617710353
    why do people litter and make the earth unhealthy this is bad we should help the earth not kill it :(
    • vomybuzy-161617710353
      its really sad that people litter and make enivorment unhealhty people should stop littering and think of what littering can end up to #save the ocean #teamseas #save the earth #teamtrees :(
      • andromeda1
        andromeda14 months
        Why would people do this…not cool….
        • suriya
          suriya4 months
          Not cool people, we cant let our ocean die like this!!! Come on! THE SEA TURTELS PEOPLE! THE CUTE ADORABLE BABY SEA TURTLES…they shouldn’t be eating each other! #TeamSeas is trying to make it better but it isn’t enough! We have to do our part in this as well. #SaveTheEarth for a better place in the future oceans, So please recycle
          • hearthealer
            hearthealer4 months
            yeah i'm totally #save the earth girl, the earth needs to be cleaner and healthier!!! and if it isnt me gonna go mad!
            • summ3r-virgo23
              If we could just spend more time helping the sea life it would really pay off!!loggerheads, green and olive ridley sea turtles, various species of sawfishes and blue whales are all endanged animals!!!!!do you really want them to be extinct?his IS sad but atleast its all in one spot and not everything thats in the garbage spot isnt scattered around the earth's oceans, the rest of the earths oceans already has so much pollution and litter im just glad that this garbage spot is all put together where people know where it is.@save the earth!dont you wanna see the earth shine
              • milkfanforever
                #TeamSeas Today, I just heard a presentation about where waste goes, and a WHOOPING 70% of waste goes, guess where? The OCEAN.... 😭😭😭😭😭😭😭 Really? We should really clean up our ocean because, it's actually our fault... I am really sad today. Also, I can't believe the garbage patch is the size TEXAS TIMES 3!!!! Also, I am sad 4 all the animals that live in the garbage patch... :(
                • iamcool24
                  iamcool244 months
                  not gonna lie I'm pretty sad but love the new marine life.
                  • disneytourguide
                    It is cool how they made life but bad how they made it! We should clean up our oceans and let them have a healthy life😄