Cruising Critters Travel the Ocean on Plastic

Charlotte Kuijpers
December 19th 2017

In 2011, a massive tsunami in Japan swept all kind of objects from the land out to the sea. Now, a huge amount of plastic and other debris pollute the shoreline along the Pacific Ocean. Although 70 percent of the trash sank to the sea bottom, many debris remained afloat and eventually reached as far as Alaska, Canada and the US.

While on the water, these chunks of plastic have been colonized by different kinds of Asian invertebrates and even some fish. This way, the floating piles of junk became cruise ships for sea creatures to travel across the ocean. And fast, too. The piles started to appear on the US coastlines about eight months after they left Japan.

Although it’s a cool fact that this trash now functions as a floating home for animals, the consequences might not be as fun. The travelling Asian organisms could pose a threat to indigenous ecosystems and it is likely that the plastic trash could transport organisms to other places as well.

The expat-critters will not invade and wreck the existing ecosystems upon arrival, or in the subsequent several years. But after a certain amount of time, these newcomers can be thriving in an environment without natural predator.

Sea organisms will have enough to surf on for the next decades, as there are over 4.8 million tons of plastic polluting oceans all over the planet. So, species will be able to travel the world on floating, human-made trash, for some time. Who knew our litter could connect continents?

Source: Popular Science. Image: The Verge

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