AB 5:219-231 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00151

Detached aquaculture buoys in the SE Pacific: potential dispersal vehicles for associated organisms

Juan Carlos Astudillo1, Macarena Bravo1, Clément P. Dumont1,2,3, Martin Thiel1,2,*

1Facultad de Ciencias de Mar, Universidad Católica del Norte, Larrondo 1281, Coquimbo, Chile
2Center of Advanced Studies in Arid Zones (CEAZA), Coquimbo, Chile
3Present address: The Swire Institute of Marine Science and Department of Ecology and Biodiversity, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Throughout the world’s oceans a wide variety of floating plastics are found, among which buoys stand out for their high floatability and diversity and abundance of associated organisms. Between 2001 and 2005, we conducted 25 ship surveys in the Bay System of Coquimbo (BSC), during which we registered 34 detached buoys floating between 1 and 45 km from the coast. The objective of this study was to infer the possible origin of these buoys, identify the associated biota and characterize their biological traits. Short-term drift experiments (30 min) showed that buoys without rope responded primarily to the velocity and direction of the wind, while buoys with ropes (3 m length) followed surface currents. Using the wind velocity and direction during the 12 h before capture of the detached buoys, we estimated the hypothetical trajectories of these buoys during that time period. Results indicated that most buoys originated from aquaculture facilities in the BSC. A total of 134 different species from 14 phyla was found on 18 anchored (91 species) and 22 detached (116 species) buoys sampled. Community composition was similar among buoys—54% of all species were common for anchored and detached buoys—but a higher number of rare species occurred on detached buoys. Buoys do not seem to lose but rather gain organisms after detachment. The most common functional groups on these buoys were mobile species, suspension-feeders and species with sexual reproduction, separate sexes, internal fertilization and direct or very short larval development. Fouling communities on detached buoys were mostly in advanced successional stages, comprising diverse species (including several non-indigenous species) adapted to the conditions at the sea surface. These results suggest that floating buoys may transport associated species over extensive distances, thereby also contributing to the spread of non-indigenous species.

KEY WORDS: Rafting · Dispersal · Buoys · Floating plastics · Fouling communities · Succession · Non-indigenous species · Chile

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Cite this article as: Astudillo JC, Bravo M, Dumont CP, Thiel M (2009) Detached aquaculture buoys in the SE Pacific: potential dispersal vehicles for associated organisms. Aquat Biol 5:219-231. https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00151

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