A hermit crab uses a plastic bottle cap as a shell, Kavieng, Papua New Guinea


© Jurgen Freund / Nature Picture Library


Although remote and considered to be some of the most unspoiled areas of the world, the Coco Islands and Henderson Island are seriously polluted. A study published in 2019 found that the beaches of the Coco Islands are covered by 414 million pieces of plastic and a total of 238 tonnes of waste, with devastating effects on the fauna in contact with the marine ecosystem, including tiny creatures like this hermit crab.
Hermit crabs are nature’s “dustmen”, so they are attracted by plastic waste, which become lethal traps; plastic is extremely slippery so the crustaceans can’t get out when they fall into containers. It has been estimated that over 560,000 hermit crabs have been trapped and died on these beaches. Plus, hermit crabs don’t have a shell and they can confuse waste with a new home.
The decline in the number of specimens of hermit crabs will have a significant impact on the ecosystem over time, because their daily activities allow the replacement of nutrients. While the overall picture is unclear, this phenomenon is likely to spread to other islands around the world, leading to a global decline in the species.
One thing is certain: if we do not stop our shameful use of plastics, we will cause these hermit crabs and many other living species to become extinct.

Martina Lando