Life Forms Thriving on Plastic Islands in the Oceans

Life Forms Thriving on Plastic Islands in the Oceans: Promoting Sustainable Yachting to Mitigate the Issue.

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The presence of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans has given rise to the Life Forms Thriving on Plastic Islands in the Oceans. Referred to as “neo pelagic communities,” these colonies of microorganisms have developed on the dispersed plastic in the oceans. One such community is flourishing in the Great Pacific garbage patch, an enormous accumulation of predominantly plastic waste floating in the Pacific Ocean. However, the colonization of these plastic islands by coastal microorganisms poses a significant risk as they have the potential to destroy marine habitats. A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications confirms this alarming trend.

Rafting Phenomenon

The study reveals that coastal marine species are developing on these floating debris masses in the open ocean, where they would not typically be found. This phenomenon, known as rafting, describes how certain coastal species traverse stretches of the ocean “on board” waste formations, essentially using them as rafts for transportation.

One notable instance of rafting occurred in 2011 when the tsunami following the earthquake in eastern Japan moved vast amounts of debris from Japanese shores to those of North America and Hawaii, covering a distance of over 6,000 kilometers. Amongst this waste, numerous specimens of different Japanese coastal species were discovered, having survived the journey across the North Atlantic and even reproducing.

Life Forms Thriving on Plastic Islands in the Oceans

Globalization and Changing Biogeography

Surprisingly, researchers did not anticipate that these coastal species could establish long-term colonies in the open ocean rather than just passing through. The game-changer in this regard has been globalization, responsible for the production of enormous quantities of waste that find their way into the oceans, essentially “filling” them with solid formations that were previously nonexistent.

The study notes, “With globalization during the Anthropocene (the geological era in which humans influence the environment), the biogeographic barriers imposed by oceans and continents are rapidly becoming obsolete – socially, economically, and now ecologically. The unexpected rise in global plastic pollution is an example of this effect, where plastic rafts create a more permanent opportunity for coastal species to transit across ocean basins and establish long-term habitats in the open ocean.”

Beyond Barriers

Discoveries of this nature challenge our current understanding of marine ecosystems and oceanic biogeography, potentially triggering a “paradigm shift” in the scientific community’s approach. The open ocean has long been considered a barrier to the dispersal of coastal species.

However, “this situation no longer holds, as a suitable habitat now exists in the open ocean, allowing coastal organisms to both survive at sea for years and reproduce, leading to self-sustaining coastal communities in the high seas.”

Increased Spread and Ecological Traps

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Furthermore, scientists emphasize that the permanent presence of coastal organisms in the middle of the ocean opens up the possibility of their much greater dispersal.

Instead of considering plastic rafts as ephemeral vectors for coastal species from one coast to another through water basins, resident coastal species in the high seas could serve as a stable source of propagules toward new waste accumulations drifting with currents and toward coastlines.

However, this discovery is not a purely positive narrative of nature triumphing over the negative aspects of human activities. As Juan José Alava, an expert in ecotoxicology and marine conservation at the University of British Columbia, highlighted, neo-pelagic communities are “essentially an ecological trap.”

They allow the arrival of non-native species into delicate habitats where they may become invasive or even destructive.


As the density of plastic in the oceans continues to increase, estimated to reach 600 million tons by 2040, the creation of more permanent floating structures is inevitable (with at least half a dozen of these “plastic islands” already in existence).

Promoting Sustainable Yachting to Mitigate the Issue

Life Forms Thriving on Plastic Islands in the Oceans

In light of the concerning colonization of plastic islands by microorganisms and the overall plastic pollution crisis in our oceans, it is essential to explore sustainable practices within the yachting industry.

Yachting enthusiasts and professionals can contribute to mitigating the problem through the adoption of environmentally friendly approaches. Here are some actions that can be taken to promote sustainable yachting:

  1. Responsible Waste Management: Proper waste management on yachts is crucial. Ensuring that all waste, including plastics, is collected, segregated, and disposed of appropriately can prevent further contamination of the marine environment. Yachts should have adequate waste storage facilities and collaborate with specialized recycling and waste management services.
  2. Minimizing Single-Use Plastics: Yachts can significantly reduce their plastic footprint by avoiding single-use plastics. This includes using reusable water bottles, replacing plastic straws with biodegradable alternatives, and opting for eco-friendly packaging for onboard supplies. Encouraging guests and crew members to embrace these practices can have a positive cumulative impact.
  3. Sustainable Cleaning and Maintenance: Yachts should employ environmentally friendly cleaning products that do not contain harmful chemicals or pollutants. Additionally, adopting responsible maintenance practices, such as regular hull cleaning to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency, can help minimize the environmental impact.
  4. Energy Efficiency: Promoting energy-efficient technologies and practices on yachts can reduce their carbon footprint. This can include installing energy-saving lighting systems, optimizing HVAC systems for better energy management, and utilizing renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines to power onboard operations.
  5. Eco-Friendly Itineraries: Yachting companies can design itineraries that promote the exploration of marine protected areas, avoiding fragile ecosystems and high-density plastic areas. By raising awareness of the importance of these areas and their preservation, yachters can contribute to the conservation of marine biodiversity.
  6. Supporting Ocean Conservation Initiatives: Yachting companies and enthusiasts can actively support and participate in ocean conservation initiatives. This can involve collaborating with marine research organizations, participating in beach and underwater clean-up activities, and contributing to educational programs that raise awareness about plastic pollution and its impact on marine life.

By embracing sustainable practices within the yachting industry, we can collectively make a positive impact on the issue of plastic pollution and protect our oceans and marine ecosystems. Yachting can be an enjoyable and responsible activity when undertaken with a commitment to environmental stewardship. Let us strive to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty of our oceans without compromising their ecological health.

If you want to know more about this topic, we invite you to read about Microplastics in the Oceans

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