Life adrift: coastal species transport on ocean plastics

Linsey Haram1, Gregory Ruiz1, James T Carlton2, Cathryn Murray3, Mary Crowley4, Luca Raffaele Centurioni5, Andrey Shcherbina6, Jan Hafner7, Nikolai A Maximenko8 and Jenny Par1, (1)Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD, United States, (2)Williams College, Mystic Seaport Program, Mystic, CT, United States, (3)PICES North Pacific Marine Science Organization, Sidney, BC, United States, (4)Ocean Voyages Institute, Sausalito, CA, United States, (5)Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA, United States, (6)Applied Physics Laboratory University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States, (7)IPRC/SOEST U. of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI, United States, (8)University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, United States
Millions of tons of plastic debris enter our oceans from land and rivers each year (Jambeck et al. 2015; Lebreton et al. 2017). Following the successful arrival of over 300 species from Japan to western North America and Hawaii in the aftermath of the 2011 East Japan Tsunami, the scientific community became aware that floating macroplastic debris can transport coastal species for years across the Pacific Ocean (Carlton et al. 2017; Hansen et al. 2018). Still, there are many unknowns about the fates and trajectories of floating plastics within the open ocean and the hitchhiking organisms that they carry. In a multi-institutional research project that spans ecology and oceanography, we investigate the frequency, community composition, and movement of coastal marine invertebrates on macroplastic debris found within the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre – the area of highest plastic concentration in the ocean. Through collaborations among our team, non-profits, and citizen scientists, we aim to elucidate the role of plastic debris as a platform for sustained coastal populations in the open-ocean and its implications for invasive species transport.