Human garbage making its way into the ocean is a global issue, and unfortunately for wildlife, our hoop-shaped trash is particularly good at looping around living things. Usually discarded plastic is the culprit, being hardy enough and sometimes buoyant enough to bob in the ocean for a disconcerting length of time. The fate of one fish off the shore of Norfolk Island, however, has proven that sometimes it’s humans’ treasure – not trash – that’s interfering with marine life.
Norfolk Island is an external territory of Australia in the Pacific Ocean that sits between New Zealand and New Caledonia. Resident Susan Prior, a freelance writer and editor, regularly posts about curiosities spotted off the island, including, in a recent blog, a fish wearing a wedding ring. In February 2021, Prior had spotted some fish that shared a similar fate only their collars were made of plastic.
“Those rings found on plastic juice and milk bottles,” she wrote. “Sometimes these rings escape into the wild, and this is the sad consequence. Mullet snuffle through the sand looking for food making it so easy for a ring or hair tie to flip over their noses and get stuck. It is such a quick job to prise the collar off the bottle and snip it before putting it in your waste.”
Prior was disheartened to see yet another animal wrapped in trash, but on closer inspection realized it was a slightly different story. “This one looked a shiny metallic gold, with a lot less algal growth compared to the plastic ones. I recalled that someone had posted on our local community social media pages about a large man’s wedding ring that had gone missing in the bay earlier this year, so I decided to see if I could find the possible owner. It didn’t take long for my suspicion to be confirmed; we now have a poor mullet weighed down with someone’s (expensive) gold wedding ring.”
Prior hopes the incentive of gold might inspire a fellowship of marine explorers to go in search of the precious, hopefully before it proves fatal. Similar stories of lost wedding rings have emerged in the press in recent years, though perhaps none where the band was found on something that so closely resembled Smeagol. In 2017, a Canadian woman lost her wedding ring while pulling weeds. Impressively, it was retrieved 13 years later wrapped around a carrot that had been dug up for supper.
The conservation status of Myxus elongatus has not yet been evaluated, but without assistance it’s likely the fate of this individual is sealed. The story serves as a reminder to try and keep hold of your rubbish (and expensive jewelry) as best you can when out in nature and always snip circular trash before putting it in the bin.
If you’re local to Norfolk Island, it could be a fine time to dust off those flippers. After all, how often does a wildlife rescue mission so closely tie in with a literal treasure hunt?