Infographic: Neuston Drift Atop the World’s Oceans

The sea surface is home to a diverse group of animals adapted to life in the open ocean, but increasingly, they’re sharing that space with plastic debris.

amanda heidt
Amanda Heidt

Amanda was an associate editor at The Scientist, where she oversaw the Scientist to Watch, Foundations, and Short Lit columns. When not editing, she produced original reporting for the magazine and website. Amanda has a master's in marine science from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and a master's in science communication from UC Santa Cruz.

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Far beyond the shore, oceans are dominated by a handful of massive gyres, circular currents that continuously suck debris into their centers. In addition to amassing pieces of floating wood and seaweed, a single gyre can also contain as many as 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. And mixed amid all that detritus are animals—a collection of crustaceans, cnidarians, sea slugs, snails, and other organisms collectively referred to as neuston. Scientists are now studying the unique adaptations these organisms have for life on the high seas and the roles they may play in open-ocean ecosystems.

          Infographic showing where neuston reside.
neuston: modified from © wikipedia; vectors modified from ©, Artis777; SpicyTruffel
          Illustration showing neuston's microhabitats
Modified from ©, Artis777; SpicyTruffel

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