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Eurythenes plasticus is named a Top Ten Marine Species of 2020

19 March 2021

Nearly 2,000 new marine species were discovered in 2020 — each a unique and fascinating addition to our known marine biodiversity.

The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) has selected the top-ten described by researchers in 2020. One of those species, Eurythenes plasticus, was described by a SNES research team, lead by PhD student Johanna Weston.

Eurythenes plasticus tells a story of deep-ocean exploration and modern-day scientific discovery of a new species, and, most importantly, highlights how our daily actions can impact animals, even in the deepest and most remote parts of the ocean.

Describing a new species provides a unique opportunity to capture the minds and hearts of the public and inspire them to become better environmental stewards. One of the many anthropogenic threats facing our ocean is plastic pollution. This year, a new scavenging amphipod crustacean was discovered living 6 to 7 km below sea level in the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth. It is the ninth species of Eurythenes to be described, possessing a unique suite of morphological features and is part of a distinct genetic lineage. While every new species is an achievement for science, in this case, one of the 11 specimens was found to have microplastic in its digestive tract. That microplastic fibre was 84% similar to PET, the main polymer in plastic bottles. This represents a tragic milestone; the first-time plastic has been documented in a new species. The new species was given the name ‘plasticus’ to signify the pervasiveness of marine plastic pollution.

This scavenging amphipod from the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean is small in size but has made a mighty impact! The species has come to symbolise our environmental impact on parts of the world that we are yet to even discover. The story of Eurythenes plasticus continues to make a lasting impact through an international petition lead by the World Wildlife Fund and short films. You also can see Eurythenes plasticus at several museum exhibits, soon to include the Great North Museum: Hancock, and a dedicated educational website.

Top Ten Marine Species of 2020

Dedicated Eurythenes plasticus website

Open access paper: Weston JNJ, Carrillo-Barragan P, Linley TD, Reid WDK, Jamieson AJ (2020) New species of Eurythenes from hadal depths of the Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean (Crustacea: Amphipoda). Zootaxa 4748(1): 163-181.