April 2023, article in a peer-reviewed journal
Nature Ecology & Evolution

Linsey E. Haram, James T. Carlton, Luca Centurioni, Henry Choong, Brendan Cornwell, Mary Crowley, Matthias Egger, Jan Hafner, Verena Hormann, Laurent Lebreton, Nikolai Maximenko, Megan McCuller, Cathryn Murray, Jenny Par, Andrey Shcherbina, Cynthia Wright and Gregory M. Ruiz

  • Publication journal: Nature Ecology & Evolution
  • Publication type: Article in peer-reviewed journal
  • Publication date: 17 April 2023
  • DOI: /10.1038/s41559-023-01997-y
  • Collaborators: Coastal & Ocean Studies Program, Williams College and Mystic Seaport Museum (US), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California (US), Royal British Columbia Museum (CA), Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University (US), Ocean Voyages Institute (US), The Ocean Cleanup (NL), International Pacific Research Center, School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, University of Hawaii (US), North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (US), Institute of Ocean Sciences, Fisheries & Oceans Canada (CA), Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington (US)


We show that the high seas are colonized by a diverse array of coastal species, which survive and reproduce in the open ocean, contributing strongly to its floating community composition. Analysis of rafting plastic debris in the eastern North Pacific Subtropical Gyre revealed 37 coastal invertebrate taxa, largely of Western Pacific origin, exceeding pelagic taxa richness by threefold. Coastal taxa, including diverse taxonomic groups and life history traits, occurred on 70.5% of debris items. Most coastal taxa possessed either direct development or asexual reproduction, possibly facilitating long-term persistence on rafts. Our results suggest that the historical lack of available substrate limited the colonization of the open ocean by coastal species, rather than physiological or ecological constraints as previously assumed. It appears that coastal species persist now in the open ocean as a substantial component of a neopelagic community sustained by the vast and expanding sea of plastic debris.

  • Community ecology, Invasive species