a thriving ecosystem found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A host of weird and wonderful wild animals have been found living in the Great Pacific Trash Patch thanks to long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte. In June 2019, Lecomte embarked on the record-breaking Vortex Swim, accompanied by a crew that traced its way through the gyre and took samples from the water. When they got to the heart of the landfill, what they found was startling. Not only floating plastic, but also high concentrations of floating life called “neuston”.

long-distance swimmer Ben Lecomte

Lecomte and his team’s findings were documented in a recent article and in a lengthy Twitter thread by Rebecca Helm, co-author and assistant professor of biology at the University of North Carolina, Asheville.

In the thread, Helm posted photos of men-of-war and blue sea dragons, which eat men-of-war and then wear them as armor. “Their predators, the blue sea dragons, who eat men of war and steal their stinging cells. Covering their bodies in armor made from the weapons of their vanquished prey,’ Helm explained.

Helm also shared photos of cannibalistic purple snails, blue button jellyfish, and windward sailors, which have sail-like bodies to catch the wind and travel on ocean currents.

In addition to recording all of these amazing ocean species, Helm and his research team discovered that the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was home to more life. “We found that floating life densities were significantly higher inside the central part of the NPGP than at its periphery, and that there was a significant positive relationship between neuston abundance and neuston abundance. plastic.”

The researchers also hypothesize that other areas with high plastic concentrations could harbor a similar neuston ecosystem. “Our results suggest that subtropical gyres and other areas with high plastic concentrations could be more than just patches of trash. The presence of unnoticed neuston seas not only has implications for regional ecology and ecosystem services, but possibly also for international policy and biodiversity protection.

“We must stop plastic before it enters the ocean”

With all that wit, Helm raised concerns for ocean cleanup projects that could bulldoze through these thriving ecosystems. She took to Twitter to say, “That’s why we need to stop plastic BEFORE it enters the ocean… Cleaning up in the middle of the ocean, with giant nets, might sound like a good idea, but it could be like bulldozing a meadow to clean up plastic bags. You’re going to catch life in these nets, in fact, it’s happened before…’

“Earlier this year I warned that @TheOceanCleanup would catch and kill floating marine life,” Helm continued. “This week they announced they were collecting plastic and their photo shows HUNDREDS of floating animals trapped with plastic (red circles).”

Ben Lecomte swims in the Great Pacific Landfill and finds it teeming with life
image by The Ocean Cleanup, with red circles added by Rebecca Helm to identify neuston

Read Ben Lecomte’s full swimming results here.