The AtlanticThe Atlantic

Animals are migrating to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By Sarah Zhang

17 Apr 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of debris in the North Pacific Ocean, is teeming with life. The Atlantic explains how an "oceanic soup" of plastic fragments is becoming a new ecosystem.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch does not seem like it would be a hospitable place. It is more than 1,000 miles from the nearest streak of land. The sun is brutal and unrelenting there, the waters nutrient poor. There is nothing much to see except the eponymous garbage.

But look more closely at this plastic garbage, as scientists did recently, and you’ll find plenty of life: sea anemones as small as a pinky nail or as large as the palm of your hand; white, lacelike bryozoa; hydroids sprouting like orange feathers; shrimplike amphipods; Japanese oysters; mussels. None of these creatures belongs here. They are all coastal animals, adapted to the turbulent, nutrient-rich shores where water meets land, but they have all somehow learned to survive in the open sea, clinging to plastic.

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