One man’s trash is another species’ shelter.
Heartbreaking photos depict how octopuses have been increasingly forced to shelter in discarded garbage as trash replaces seashells on the ocean floor. The alarming pics were part of a Brazilian-led study published in the journal “Marine Pollution Bulletin.”
“They clearly see that there’s a lot of litter around, and it can therefore act as a kind of artificial camouflage,” research supervisor Maira Proietti, a professor with the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, told the Guardian. The case study sought to “elucidate the interactions of octopuses with marine litter, identifying types of interactions and affected species and regions,” the Metro reported.
To achieve this, they compiled 261 photos of eight-legged refuse refugees, images that were both contributed by research institutions and sourced from social media with permission, according to Science Alert.
The mollusk MacGyvers, which seek shelter to lay eggs and hide from predators, were depicted interacting with everything from beer cans to water bottles and even batteries, like an aquatic apocalypse flick. In one photo, a cephalopod is seen squeezed into a jar like pickled seafood; another shows an octopus peering out of a rusted pipe.
Some were even observed covering their heads with trash like makeshift helmets while traveling along the ocean floor on their tentacles — a practice known as “stilt walking,” per the Guardian.
“It shows their extreme ability to adapt,” said Prioetti. “They are very intelligent animals, and they will use what they have at their disposal to continue sheltering or walking around with protection.”
All told, the team found evidence of over 24 species participating in the trashy trend, which comes as plastic pollution floods the world’s oceans at an alarming rate.
The researchers also blame the world’s soaring demand for seashells, which eliminates octopuses’ preferred hiding spots, reducing them to squatting in garbage. In fact, the critters reportedly prefer glass receptacles as the smooth texture resembles the inside of a shell, Science Alert noted.
These trash tenements are more than just eyesores. Studies speculate that the animals could be poisoned by chemicals found in their plastic and battery adodes, or injured by the sharp metal and glass containers.
Currently, more research is needed to assess the impact of octopuses taking up residence in human rubbish.
“It is possible that the negative impacts of litter on octopuses is underestimated due to the lack of available data, and we, therefore, emphasize that the problem must be more thoroughly assessed,” the researchers wrote.
A 2020 study found that oceanic plastic is expected to triple by the year 2040 unless drastic measures are taken.