Goose barnacles are weird crustaceans living in colonies on floating plastic trash

Colony of Goose Barnacles

Goose Barnacles in Thailand. Photo by Tom Page
Goose Barnacles in Thailand. Photo by Tom Page

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Are Goose Barnacles adding to the problem?

Goose Barnacles (Lepas anserifera) are a weird form of crustacean that live as colonies that are attached to flotsam and driftwood floating on the tides. They are often found washed up on beaches and in recent years some people that have found them have thought they have discovered some sort of alien animal.

Goose Barnacles are filter-feeders and a large part of what they eat is the plankton that they sweep into their mouths. Plankton though is becoming a lot less than it used to be and this can cause serious problems for marine creatures that depend on it.

As adventurer and author David de Rothschild points out in his talks and in his new book Plastiki Across The Pacific on Plastic: An Adventure To Save Our Oceans there are as many as six parts of plastic to one of plankton in some parts of the ocean. This is an alarming situation because plankton is the main food of so many sea creatures.

The Plastiki is the name of a catamaran made from 12,500 plastic bottles on which David and his crew sailed across the Pacific Ocean in 2010 from San Francisco to Sydney in Australia. This was done to raise awareness of the problem and dangers of plastic pollution, and as a call for responsible use of plastic as a resource.

De Rothschild, by the way, photographed some Goose Barnacles that were attached to the sides of his Plastiki catamaran. They were hitch-hiking a lift on his now famous craft.

A species of goose barnacle from a fish market in Donostia (San Sebastian), Spain


Project Kaisei - Jim Leichter Finds Barnacle Fouling Community - The Garbage Patch - Scripps

Plastic pollution

Plastic pollution of the oceans is already a very serious danger to marine life and killing millions of sea birds, turtles, whales and other animals every year. Plastic which accumulates poisons is also entering the food chain that goes all the way up to us.

Plastic is unable to biodegrade but only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and countless billions of these are now polluting the oceans and beaches of the world as well as accumulating in vast gyres, of which there are five. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is twice the size of Texas!

Plastic enters the food chain because the tiny particles get swallowed by sea creatures and the very small bits are ingested by the plankton feeders. The larger items of plastic are getting mistaken for jellyfish and squid and eaten by sea birds, turtles and whales that are unable to digest or pass the material through them, which in many cases leads to their deaths.

Many whales that beach themselves and die are found to have stomachs full of plastic. They are swallowing plastic bags, plastic ropes and all sorts of other trash made from the material. Many seabirds have eaten plastic and this is certain to continue because every day more and more of it is entering the oceans. The problem is getting worse too because there are less and less fish and other marine life the birds and other marine predators normally would feed upon. This is making the birds and whales feed on what they can find, and sadly a lot of this is plastic rubbish.

The sea creatures that live on plankton are having a hard time too though because the amount of plankton is rapidly declining due to climate change and acidification amongst other factors. It is even possible that Goose Barnacles are making the situation even worse though, because they are increasing in numbers due to the vast amounts of plastic garbage on which they can attach themselves. The more Goose Barnacles there are out there eating plankton the less plankton there is.

Goose Tree


Goose Barnacles described

Goose Barnacles are also known as Gooseneck Barnacles and Stalked Barnacles. Marine biologists and zoologists would know them as species of the Pedunculata family.

While many sea creatures are being killed off by plastic pollution at present the Goose Barnacle is one of a small number of animals that are actually benefiting from the mess. They are able to colonise new areas transported on floating plastic garbage.

They have stalks which attach them to whatever surface they are on. Their mouth-parts are in the 'head' section at the end and these are shaped something like a beak so hence the similarity to geese.

Long ago it was believed that the Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) developed from these barnacles, and further that the driftwood they were so often found on had grown on a tree with them as part of its branches that had fallen off into the water. Barnacle Geese were not seen nesting in Europe, and this was before it was known that birds could migrate, so this is how the strange belief came about.

Goose Barnacles are known as "Percebes" in Spain and Portugal where they are regarded as a delicacy.

It would seem very likely that Goose Barnacles being eaten in this way have often ingested plastic as well as large amounts of their natural food. At the same time as they are bringing the toxins in the plastic into the mouths and bodies of humans they are also depleting the amounts of natural plankton.

Recent studies have shown that goose barnacles are not only hitching rides on floating plastic but that the creatures are also eating tiny bits of the material. Barnacles normally feed on plankton which they sweep into their mouths but many of the animals are now feeding on plastic particles mixed in with their natural food.

Goose barnacles colony

© 2011 Steve Andrews

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Comments 23 comments

Tom Cornett profile image

Tom Cornett 5 years ago from Ohio

Good Hub....I learned something. Thanks Bard. :)

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for posting, Tom!

Spirit Whisperer profile image

Spirit Whisperer 5 years ago from Isle of Man

This is another well written and informative hub about a topic I knew nothing about. It is a fascinating read but also very sad. Another nail in Man's coffin!

Thank you.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I am glad you found it of interest, Spirit Whisperer! Yes, it is beyond sad at what has happened to the oceans!

Marissa 5 years ago

I am really glad that you promoting David Rothschild.

He seems to be very spoken, soft-spoken and not loud and obnoxious like some Americans who attacked him verbally.

I understand your feelings about Alex. This is something that I don't admire in many Americans. I hope that David saves the planet. We need people with money and influence to save the planet. I don't know David personally, but anyone who cares about our planet is a good person!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Marissa! I am currently reading David's new book and it is brilliant and will make a difference in the world because many people will read it and find out about the true state of the oceans and what can be done about stopping this. I am very glad to say a teacher from this island just asked me if they should get the book for the school library and of course I answered, yes!

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

I've never heard of this. Thanks for the interesting information.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Suziecat7!

chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

The plastic is drastic, is no doubt a very sad affair on all our parts. a diificult we must face. Thanks for bringing us the Goose Barnacles piece.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for posting! I intend taking this a lot further because I think I have realised something here that perhaps others have not that the animals are depleting plankton. I am not sure if any research has been done on this.

mistyhorizon2003 profile image

mistyhorizon2003 5 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

A very interesting article Steve, I really hope the planet can be saved, but man seems so very determined to destroy it! Perhaps the best solution would be for some fatal disease or epidemic to wipe out the human race and just leave the rest of the creatures to their own devices, in which case the earth might just be in with a chance!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

I didn't realize that plastic caused that kind of damage. I'm glad to have learned about it. I hope someone is researching all the effects it causes too!

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for your posts, Cindy and RealHousewife!

Cindy, I have no doubts about the planet surviving and many species but sadly very many are being wiped out!

RealHousewife, yes, there are very many people aware of the harm being caused by plastic, though clearly nowhere near enough or we wouldn't have this situation!

RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Bard - I bet the folks who make plastic are aware of it. Know what I mean? That is a shame too, greed over good character.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, I am sure the manufacturers are aware of the situation but it is business as usual for them!

lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

More interesting knowledge to add to all the stuff I carry around. I can only hope this comes up in conversation one day so I can use it. Thanks. Lynda

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Lynda!

Cheryl J. profile image

Cheryl J. 5 years ago from Houston, TX

Wonderful and insightful information. We must save our oceans and stop destroying the water life. Great and useful hub.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Cheryl!

Michael 5 years ago

Thanks for the article. It is very interesting. I actually found your article by googling "plastic" and "barnacle". I was wondering if barnacles attaching to floating plastic could help reduce the amount of floating plastic by weighing it down and sinking it. Do you know if they could also be helping to reduce the garbage patch?

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

No, they don't sink. They are a species that needs a floating surface to attach to which used to mainly be harmless driftwood. No, they are not helping reduce the garbage patches in any way. In my opinion they are adding to two ongoing problems: they are plankton feeders and are reducing the numbers of this vitally important food for other marine life, and secondly they are taking calcium carbonate out of the water to make their shells. Due to the increased acidification of the oceans many shell-bearing animals and corals too are having a hard time and dying.

Michael 5 years ago

Thank you for the reply. I understand that they need to attach to a floating object - I was just thinking that if enough of them attach to a piece of plastic it could sink.

Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I see what you mean and don't know how they would get around that because it would kill them. Obviously the bigger they get the more they weigh and a lot of big ones on a light object could no longer be carried afloat. That could be a scientific study in itself! There must be some means of them knowing how many any object can support or else loads would end up sinking and dying.

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