Coastal species are thriving in the middle of the ocean in a patch of garbage and plastic, researchers said in a new study. 

While studying the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, scientists found coastal species occurred on more than 70% of debris, according to a study published Monday in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal. There was even evidence they’d reproduced in their plastic homes. 

The discovery of living coastal species in the middle of the ocean is not unprecedented, but researchers said the diversity and frequency of coastal species is new. 

“Our results demonstrate that the oceanic environment and floating plastic habitat are clearly hospitable to coastal species. Coastal species with an array of life history traits can survive, reproduce, and have complex population and community structures in the open ocean,” the study’s authors wrote. “The plastisphere may now provide extraordinary new opportunities for coastal species to expand populations into the open ocean and become a permanent part of the pelagic community, fundamentally altering the oceanic communities and ecosystem processes in this environment with potential implications for shifts in species dispersal and biogeography at broad spatial scales.”

Researchers studied species found on 105 pieces of debris collected between November 2018 and January 2019. The debris included fishing nets, ropes and bottles.

Around two-thirds of the debris studied was home to both coastal and open-ocean species living together.

More plastic is expected to make its way into the ocean in coming years. A recent study warned that without urgent policy intervention the rate at which plastic waste will enter the ocean between now and 2040 will  increase by around 2.6 times. 

A seagull stands next to a discarded surgical gown in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco, California. 

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Where is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

There’s not actually one, big pile of trash, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The debris concentrates in a number of areas. Wind and waves move the garbage around continuously in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California.

How big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?

Researchers in 2018 estimated that there were at least 79,000 tons of plastic inside the patch. The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit, has removed more than tens of thousands of pounds of debris in the years since. The patch is made of both bigger pieces of debris and microplastics.

How did the Great Pacific Garbage Patch form?

Garbage patches form when gyres — rotating ocean currents – pull debris into one location, according to the NOAA. There are five gyres located throughout the oceans.

Are there other garbage patches in the ocean?

While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most famous, it is not the only one. There are two gyres in the Pacific Ocean, two in the Atlantic Ocean and one in the Indian Ocean creating patches of debris.