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In some waterfront areas, driftwood is a major . However, the driftwood provides shelter and food for birds, fish and other aquatic species as it floats in the ocean. Gribbles, shipworms and bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients that are reintroduced to the food web. Sometimes, the partially decomposed wood washes ashore, where it also shelters birds, plants, and other species. Driftwood can become the foundation for sand dunes.
Driftwood can be:
- a tree or part of a tree that is in a large body of water because of strong winds or flooding
- buildings and their contents that are in the sea because of floods, storms and tsunamis
- wooden objects placed into the water from shore
- remains of wooden ships and boats
- lost cargo
Driftwood carried by Arctic rivers was the main, or sometimes only, source of wood for some Inuit and other Arctic populations living north of the tree-line until they came into regular contact with European traders.