THE scale of the world’s plastic crisis has been laid bare by these chilling pictures of half a MILLION crabs trapped in plastic rubbish.
Scientists conducted surveys on the Indian Ocean’s Cocos Islands – and recorded 508,000 trapped crabs.
The number of crabs getting trapped by debris is the equivalent of two crabs per square metre of beach.
The study was led by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania and included researchers from London’s Natural History Museum and the Two Hands Project community science organisation.
Researchers have previously revealed that Cocos and Henderson Islands are littered with millions of pieces of discarded plastic.
But the new study found that the scale of pollution creates both a physical barrier for the crabs and a series of deadly traps.
Hermit crabs do not have a shell of their own, and instead seek out available empty shells – and often confuse pieces of plastic for vacant ones.
Dr Alex Bond, from the Natural History Museum, said: “The problem is quite insidious really, because it only takes one crab.
“Hermit crabs do not have a shell of their own, which means that when one of their compatriots die, they emit a chemical signal that basically says ‘there’s a shell available’ attracting more crabs who fall into the containers and die, who then send out more signals that say there are more shells available.
“Essentially it is this gruesome chain reaction.
How much plastic is in the world's oceans?
Up to 12million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea every year – the equivalent of a full rubbish truck every minute.
There is now an estimated 300million tonnes of plastic in the oceans – much of it invisible to the naked eye.
Some escapes from landfill sites, blows into a river and ends up in the sea, while other sources are dumped by careless holidaymakers on the beach.
And it can even get washed down the drain in the form of microbeads in cosmetic products.
Single-use plastics don’t break down naturally and are found in items that are only used once before they are thrown away or recycled.
They include straws, light-weight plastic bags, some food packaging, disposable utensils and beverage containers.
They make up most of the dumped plastic worldwide.
Although it doesn’t decompose into natural substances like soil, it will break down into tiny particles that make their way into the food and water supply.
Worryingly, fish-eating Brits risk consuming up to 11,000 tiny fragments every year according to a recent Belgian study.
MOST READ IN NEWS
“We all need to consider our actions, especially in relation to the purchase of single use plastic products as we are proving time and time again that the cost of this convenience is immense.”
IMAS researcher Dr Jennifer Lavers, who led the study, added: “These results are shocking but perhaps not surprising, because beaches and the vegetation that fringes them are frequented by a wide range of wildlife.
“It is inevitable that these creatures will interact with and be affected by plastic pollution, although ours is one of the first studies to provide quantitative data on such impacts.”