Trapped in plastic debris, over half a million hermit crabs have been killed by plastic pollution in two remote islands, revealed a new study from the University of Tasmania.
Research teams estimated that about 508,000 of the crustaceans have been killed in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean and about 61,000 on Henderson Island in the Pacific after getting stuck in debris such as plastic bottles, which researchers said served as deadly traps, reported CNN.
Hermit crabs do not have shells of their own and use empty shells or hollow objects as a protection.
The study “Entrapment in plastic debris endangers hermit crabs” was led by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania and has been published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials.
The study found that plastic containers like drink and industrial bottles entrapped the crabs leading to their eventual death.
"When we were surveying debris on the islands, I was struck by how many open plastic containers contained hermit crabs, both dead and alive," Dr Jennifer Lavers, who led the study was quoted as saying.
“Overall hermit crab entrapment rates were extremely high on both Henderson and Cocos, with nearly 61,000 (2.447 crabs/m2) and 508,000 crabs (1.117 crabs/m2) becoming entrapped, respectively. Though overall mortality on Henderson is lower, the beach area is much smaller than that on Cocos, and both the rate and severity of entrapment and mortality is much higher, the study said.
It also said that the death of the crabs due to plastic pollution on a global scale would impact on ecosystems.
"Hermit crabs play a crucial role in the health of tropical environments by aerating and fertilising soil, and dispersing seeds and removing detritus, as well being a key part of the marine ecosystem. Their population degradation is more than just a risk to the natural environment," she said.