Entrapment in plastic debris endangers hermit crabsJennifer L. Lavers, Paul B. Sharp, Silke Stuckenbrock, Alexander L. Bond
Significant quantities of plastic debris pollute nearly all the world’s ecosystems, where it persists for decades and poses a considerable threat to flora and fauna. Much of the focus has been on the marine environment, with little information on the hazard posed by debris accumulating on beaches and adjacent vegetated areas.
Here we investigate the potential for beach debris to disrupt terrestrial species and ecosystems on two remote islands. The significant quantities of debris on the beaches, and throughout the coastal vegetation, create a significant barrier which strawberry hermit crabs (Coenobita perlatus) encounter during their daily activities. Around 61,000 (2.447 crabs/m2) and 508,000 crabs (1.117 crabs/m2) are estimated to become entrapped in debris and die each year on Henderson Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, respectively.
Globally, there is an urgent need to establish a clear link between debris interactions and population persistence, as loss of biodiversity contributes to ecosystem degradation. Our findings show accumulating debris on these islands has the potential to seriously impact hermit crab populations. This is important for countless other islands worldwide where crabs and debris overlap, as crabs play a crucial role in the maintenance of tropical ecosystems.