Hermit Crabs are Making Homes in Plastic Instead of Shells and It’s Killing Them

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Researchers discovered that at least half a million hermit crabs have died because they were stuck in plastic “shells” that were too slippery to get out of.

Researchers from Australia conducted a survey of Cocos Islands and discovered hundreds of thousands of hermit crabs imprisoned or dead in plastic containers that they mistook for shells.

According to the researchers, the islands, which were once supposed to be a tropical paradise, are “literally drowning in plastic,” according to the researchers.

Hermit crabs confuse plastic cups, buckets, bottles, and other detritus for shells, climb into them, and they cannot climb out because the plastic surfaces are too slick to gain momentum.

Whether they are attempting to leave because their home is too large or because they have outgrown it, the study’s authors say they are trapped.

“When we were surveying debris on the islands, I was struck by how many open plastic containers contained hermit crabs, both dead and alive,” Jennifer Lavers, main study author and researcher at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, explained.

She and her team estimated that 508,000 crabs had been killed on Cocos Islands and 61,000 on Henderson Island, based on an average of one or two captured crabs per square meter.

According to the researchers, each plastic “shell” is used by an untold number of crabs because, when they die, they produce a chemical signal that alerts other crabs that a shell has become accessible and attracts them to it.

“Hermit crabs play a crucial role in the health of tropical environments by aerating and fertilizing the soil, and dispersing seeds and removing detritus, as well being a key part of the marine ecosystem”, Lavers explained.

Their population decline poses a greater threat to the natural environment than simply threatening the environment. They are also a vital component of marine ecosystems that humans rely on for fishing, recreation, and tourism; therefore, the economic consequences of their depletion may be significant.