I got “schooled” on anemones today. As sad as it may sound, I knew nothing of them other than what I saw in the animation “Finding Nemo.” With my childlike preoccupation, Jeff had to ask, “Haven’t you ever been in a tide pool before?” And then urged I go spend some time in one. You may wonder how the topic of anemones came up while out in the deep ocean, 100s, if not a 1000, miles from any tide pools or reef lines where anemones live. It has to do with yet another game I made up while trying to quantify or if nothing else, wrap my head around all this plastic I see daily floating by in all different shapes and sizes. Since the sea state was a two, it was good enough to get out on the bow and start hunting for plastics.
I made a hand drawn spreadsheet with categories of: color, item description, and then a series of columns for size increments i.e. 0-1 cm, 2-10 cm, and so forth. We started exactly at 1400 and intended to go for 30 minutes. Bill shouted out what he saw; I would write it down. Occasionally, he would try to pull them out. To keep it simple, we only counted and collected from the starboard side. If it were a competition between the white fragments and any other color/size, white fragments 0-1 cm would win hands down. With only nine minutes to go the captain pointed to a white piece roughly 3x5 inches small. Bill scooped it out of the water and when I pulled it out of the net, the white piece of plastic was covered with anemones which were covered with plastic. The captain was equally taken aback. An array of plastic particulates stuck to the anemones with a duck tape grip on the front and back of the plastic piece. Here we were with a total of 98 pieces that we counted in 26 minutes and this one piece of plastic looked to have an equal amount. So after a photo shoot, I started counting the number of pieces on each clumped mat of anemones. There were 14 clumps with a total of 131 pieces of plastic particulates attached to them, all clinging to a larger piece of plastic - 132!
Jeff told me that these critters cover themselves with rocks and shells to protect their soft jelly tissue against predators or from being scrubbed against rocky surfaces near shore. I found a book that described yet another detail, it said, “To prevent the fatal loss of water from body tissues during low tide, they [anemones] retract their tentacles and cover themselves with light-colored rocks and shells that tend to reflect, rather than absorb heat. Studies have shown that anemones have trouble maintaining fluids above 55 F. Gwen explained that the anemones use nematocysts as a way of attaching plastic to themselves and also added that they could be trying to feed on it, as well. So it was plastic that swept them out to sea and it was plastic in the ocean environment they found to cover themselves with.