NEWS: Crabs 'dying from plastic'

Scientists say more than half a million hermit crabs have been killed by becoming trapped in plastic debris on two remote islands.

Surveys were conducted on the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean and Henderson Island in the Pacific.

The study by the University of Tasmania warns the problem is likely to be common on islands worldwide, seriously affecting hermit crab populations.  

Published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, the study was carried out by researchers from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies who revealed previously that Cocos and Henderson islands are littered with millions of pieces of plastic.

The hermit crab study found that piles of plastic pollution on beaches create both 'a physical barrier' and a 'series of potentially deadly traps for crabs'.

Dr Jennifer Lavers, who led the studies, said that while considerable attention had been given to plastic pollution in the marine environment, little research had been done into the risk that marine pollution poses to wildlife.

She said: "When we were surveying debris on the islands, I was struck by how many open plastic containers contained hermit crabs, both dead and alive.

"We decided to do additional surveys across a range of sites of how many containers there were, including how many were open, how many were in a position likely to trap crabs, and how many contained trapped crabs.

"Our calculations show more than 500,000 hermit crabs died from being trapped in containers on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and 60,000 on Henderson island.

"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."

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