Long before litter was present in our oceans, small marine organisms lived and traveled on floating objects such as small wood logs, pumice stones, seeds, and even other marine animals. These ocean travelers are called epibionts. Although epibionts have long existed on these natural habitats, all these habitats were temporary (they would either decay or die). However, with the invention of plastics and other human-created materials, there are now artificial habitats for epibionts that can persist for long periods of time at the sea surface. On these pieces of marine litter, epibionts can be in the ocean longer and travel farther. It is even possible for the epibionts on marine litter to travel to new continents and potentially become invasive species. This project aims to better understand the origins, abundances, and identities of the epibionts that are traveling on marine litter in hopes of preserving and protecting local marine communities.
This project is a joint effort of researchers from multiple institutions who are interested in marine life, and marine litter. We value international collaboration and engaging diverse stakeholder communities. Take a look at some of the places where volunteers are collecting data. With the help of a large collaborative effort we managed to sample over 430 beaches during the sampling period from July - December 2022!