Plastics have entered the world’s oceans such a massive scale that scientists have coined the term, “Marine Plastics” to identify these forms of plastics. Now, researchers Ignacio Gestoso, Eva Cacabelos, Patrício Ramalhosa, and João Canning-Clodea of the Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Madeira Island, Portugal and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, MD, USA, have coined a new term for plastic that encrusts itself onto the ocean’s intertidal coastal rock formations, plasticrust.

“[The crusts] likely originated by the crash of large pieces of plastic against the rocky shore, resulting in plastic crusting the rock in a similar way algae or lichens do,” Gestoso told Earther.

These bits of plastic are most likely encrusting the rocky surfaces of intertidal zones around the world, and the impact of these man made materials on organisms that may be ingesting these plastics is not yet known.

Gestoso’s paper, “Plasticrusts: A new potential threat in the Anthropocene’s rocky shores” is published in the journal Science Direct. The researchers say these plastics present a novel pathway for entrance of plastics into the marine food web, and that plasticrusts are a potential new marine debris category.

“The potential impact that these new ‘plasticrusts’ may have needs to be further explored, as e.g. potential ingestion by intertidal organisms could suppose a new pathway for entrance of plastics into marine food webs,” the researchers wrote in their abstract discussing the new type of marine plastics. “Consequently, its inclusion as a potential new marine debris category in management and monitoring actions should be pondered.”

The impact of these plasticrusts are already having negative effects on the Portugese island of Madeira, where Gestoso says the plasticrusts are slowly replacing natural biological crusts and films on the rocks the intertidal animals such as snails and barnacles adhere to and rely on as a food source. For example, an algae-eating species of winkle sea snail was just as abundant on the plasticrusts as on surfaces that it normally feeds upon, suggesting that the mollusk may be grazing directly on the algae that forms on the plasticrusts, potentially ingesting plastic as it eats plasticrusts.

Clean Our Oceans Project takeaway: It is all about personal responsibility. Make a decision to use less plastic, and recycle the plastic that you do use.