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Octopuses Adapting To Our Artificial Waste

With the effect of artificial waste having such a detrimental impact on the world today, we should not be surprised to find that our eco-system is responding to these great changes. Our oceans are no exception. Earlier this year, a study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin found that octopuses increasingly use artificial waste items – most commonly glass and plastics – for shelter, a sanctuary for their eggs, and camouflage from predators.

It is estimated that about 80% of the items found in the ocean come from land-based sources. The study says that ‘the use of litter as a shelter could have negative implications.’ The researchers obtained 261 underwater images from Citizen Science (CS), civic educators, and civilian communities who have provided photographic and audiovisual records of the interaction of octopuses with marine litter online. Researchers of the study have identified 8 genera and 24 species of benthic octopuses from these records. The study aims to ‘help prevent and mitigate the impacts of litter on octopuses and identify knowledge gaps that require attention.’ 

Since natural shelters are becoming scarcer in the marine environment, finding high-quality shelters could represent a possible advantage for animals. ‘It's becoming so common that they're using these items to protect themselves with instead of their natural shelters, such as seashells, which are becoming scarce in the ocean,’ says Maira Proietti, study author, and oceanographer. 

However, too few studies have focused on the interactions between cephalopods and marine litter, and scientific information on this subject has scarcely been updated over the last decades. In fact, it is possible that sheltering (the most common use of these waste items according to the study) in them could expose these animals to toxic chemical compounds, although an additional investigation is needed.

According to the study, glass made up 41.6% and plastics 24.7% of the litter used by octopuses. So, it seems fair to say that micro and nano glass fragments as well as microplastics pose a very dangerous disadvantage for the wily cephalopods when we consider the effect of these materials as ocean pollutants. The main problem with these materials is that they do not readily break down into harmless molecules and can therefore be consumed by the animal interacting with them. It is said that these materials have even been detected inside marine organisms from plankton to whales, in the commercial seafood we eat ourselves, and even in our drinking water. 

On the other hand, the increased use of these potentially damaging waste materials also represents the lack of natural resources like shells. Proietti said, ‘While these interactions could seem positive for the animals because they are lacking natural shelters such as seashells, it is not a good thing to think that the animals may be using litter as a shelter because the seashells are gone.’ 

These intelligent adaptors have made impressive use of our changes to the world. But regrettably, these are adaptations and changes that some fear cannot be so easily reversed. In fact, the WWF says that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans. So we can expect this new method of living for marine animals to become a standard method of survival.

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Tags: #octopus #oceanwaste #resourcefulness


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