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Should you be concerned about plastic and other human debris in your seafood?

August 8, 2016

Should you be concerned about plastic and other human debris in your seafood?

8 August 2016
Mike Gaworecki

By now, you’ve probably heard of the massive, floating garbage patches swirling around in each of Earth’s five major ocean basins: the North and South Atlantic, the North and South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.

Recent research has shown that mankind’s trash does not get trapped in these oceanic gyres forever, as was previously thought, but that currents flowing away from the gyres in the Pacific Ocean allow the debris to eventually wash up on the shores of North and South America.

Scientists are also becomingly increasingly concerned about another place where ocean trash might be ending up: the guts (or whatever passes for a digestive tract) in marine life. Plastics and other debris that degrade very slowly can leach harmful chemicals into the ocean. Does that mean your seafood might be carrying these toxins, too?

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports last September noted that marine debris is found in just about every ocean habitat, from the open ocean and the deep seas to coral reefs, estuaries, and shallow bays. Ocean trash has also been found in hundreds of marine wildlife species, including fish and bivalve species like tuna, swordfish, mussels, and oysters — the types of species you might be more familiar with as “seafood.”

There are several ways this can affect human health: marine debris can cause physical harm such as inflammation and laceration of tissues in the gastrointestinal tract of humans who ingest it via seafood, for instance, while consuming marine debris can also increase the levels of hazardous chemicals in humans. But, as the authors of the study write, “The first step in understanding potential impacts of anthropogenic marine debris on human health is to determine whether anthropogenic marine debris is present in fish and shellfish caught and sold for human consumption.”

The study’s authors, a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis and Indonesia’s University of Hasanuddin, sampled fish sold in markets in Half Moon Bay and Princeton, California and in Makassar, Indonesia. They found that, in Indonesia, debris was present in 28 percent of individual fish and 55 percent of all species sampled. The US markets had similar numbers, with debris found in 25 percent of individual fish and 67 percent of all species. Anthropogenic debris was also found in 33 percent of individual shellfish the team sampled.

Read more at MONGABAY.

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