Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Home to oysters, mussels

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Andrea Bautista​

Over the course of 48 days, an expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch managed to haul an astonishing 103 tons of plastic from the ocean. Credit: Ocean Voyages Institute/Cover Im via Reuters Connect

Between the coast of California and Hawaii, you can find a swirling vortex of trash. The monstrosity, dubbed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, covers an area twice the size of Texas. On its surface, it looks like nothing but plastic. But it turns out that marine life is creating a new ecosystem among the debris — according to new research

The patch consists of not just regular garbage such as flower pots, fishing nets, and fish traps, but also microplastics, which all take a long time to break down, says Sarah Zhang, science and health staff writer at The Atlantic. 

Scientists collected 105 pieces of trash during an ocean cleanup and found living organisms including sea anemones, amphipods, mussels, and oysters. 

“These are all animals that are used to living on the coast. They’re not used to living in the middle of the ocean, right? Think about what a beach looks like and what the middle of the Pacific, 1000 miles away from land, looks like. They're living in a place that they're really not supposed to be found,” Zhang says.  

There’s also evidence that some of these animals are reproducing. And while a number of organisms are eating the plastic in the trash, others are feeding off of other critters, as well as algae and plankton.

The presence of sea life may complicate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch cleanup.

“You could arguably say these are invasive species, and maybe we don't want them there. But actually, there are also other animals that live here. …  Any attempt to use a net to collect all this garbage may also really harm these other animals that are floating around.”



  • Sarah Zhang - staff writer at The Atlantic who covers science and health