Researchers and concerned citizens in Japan and Hawai`i have emailed us explaining that the little (~1.5 cm, or ~half-inch) tubes are used as "spacers" in the Japanese oyster aquaculture industry. The tubes are placed between empty scallops, as you can see from my sketch on the left, and then lines of the shells are hung in seawater. Baby oysters attach to the scallop shells and grow.
Sometimes these spacers must come loose and float out to sea. Then, once in awhile, an albatross swallows a spacer as they fish for food in the North Pacific. Spacers are carried to Midway Atoll both when albatross throw up their boluses while standing in fields on Midway and when lone spacers float ashore on Midway's beaches.
|photo by Y. Ohkura|
(*Plastic pellets are small, plastic spheres that are melted and used to make all sorts of plastic products.)