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The Sad Reality Of  Plastics

According to a controversial report earlier this year, every single piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists today. While this may be an exaggeration, the problem of plastics in the seas is not one that can be ignored anymore.

Last week, while we were enjoying a quiet evening on camp after a great day of diving, we came across two very strange hermit crabs. Instead of using a typical mollusc shell for protection, as all hermit crabs do, these guys had found refuge in some pieces of plastic. These crabs are well known for inhabiting empty seashells, which they always carry around. They are able to retract their whole body inside the shell, as a very good means of defence against predators. Unlike other crab species, they have a very soft abdomen that is usually spirally curved to fit the shell of a marine snail. We attempted to pick them up to have a closer look at them and they immediately abandoned their makeshift homes (a small bottle and a vaseline tub), revealing their almost naked-looking body.

A hermit crab without a shell is highly vulnerable and has little chance of surviving in the wild, as they have no other way of protecting themselves. They can still use their strong claws but more often than not, this will not be enough to scare away a bigger predator. We realised quickly that they had no way of surviving on their own, so we took them down to the beach (while trying to avoid them grabbing onto our fingers) and found them an appropriately sized shell that they could use as a new home. We left them there, in the hope that they would take advantage of this second chance.


A piece of plastic will never be able to act as a good refuge for a hermit crab. Their bodies are not shaped that way and even though it could sometimes be better than not having any protection at all, it is still worrying that they had to turn to plastic instead of seashells. This simply means that there is more plastic in their natural environment than shells and that the only way for them to survive was using plastic. Studies have predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans, which is indeed a worrying prospect. Our incident with the hermit crabs was just one example of how that can affect marine life of all kinds.

By Teodora Forascu - Fiji Marine Assistant Research Officer

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