As Key Dives’ clean up divers hauled up marine debris, Tokea “Kea” Payton got ready to get to work. The incoming doctoral student at Clemson University meticulously combed through the trash picked up from the ocean floor — broken traps, old rope and bits of plastics — looking for little creatures that may have come up with the debris.
Payton’s research for Michael Childress’ Conservation of Marine Resources Lab focuses on marine debris as a habitat for marine organisms. As such, she measures and documents all the little crabs, brittle stars, invertebrates, coral, shrimp and juvenile fish that come up in piles of debris.
“I expect to find mostly small mobile invertebrate species such as crabs and brittle stars. I also expect to see larval reef fishes,” Payton told the Weekly.
So far, in the early stages of her research, she has found several species of crabs, including decorator and hermit crabs.
Payton hopes her work can help better marine management and outreach practices regarding marine debris.