While the impact of plastics on many marine-based species is a huge unknown, scientists are beginning to piece together the risks this pollution poses to marine ecosystems,media reported. The latest discovery in this field is related to a common blue mussel seafood. The researchers found that in the shellfish reef structures common in nature, the amount of plastic that gathered together is three times higher than the amount of plastic that is not gathered together.
The study was carried out by scientists from the University of Plymouth, who conducted a series of experiments to study how the tendency of blue mussels to form reef structures affects their absorption of plastic waste. During the study, researchers needed mussels to gather in the water to take into account factors such as their influence on waves at different speeds.
In different experiments, the team added microplastic particles to the water to observe the effects of different water flows on the risk of mussel feeding.
The team found that when mussels gathered together in the lab to form reef-like structures, they slowed the flow of water flowing through the mussels while increasing turbulence. As a result, the mussels have tripled their intake of plastic, and the researchers describe the reef structureas as “natural precipitation” of plastics and other pollutants, mainly caused by structural complexity and surface roughness.
Dr Antony Knights, associate professor of marine ecology at Plymouth University, said: “We usually protect reef-forming species based on their identity. However, we have not found any studies that show the physical structure of the reef itself — which we have shown to help these filter-eating organisms become more effective breeders — may also inadvertently increase their exposure to pollutants such as microplastics. As we become more aware of the amount of microplastics in the marine environment, this study, while not solving this problem, provides the first evidence that the formation of reefs is a double-edged sword for mussels. “
This is not the first time we have heard about the adverse effects of plastic pollution on mussels. A study published last year found that exposure to microplastics may trigger a strong immune response in animals, which can lead to a decrease in the amount of adhesion fibers they secrete, which are the main tools for attaching them to rocks. While the risks of plastic pollution to all marine species have raised concerns, the popularity of mussels as a seafood snack and their important role in healthy marine ecosystems may be a priority for researchers in this area.
“Species like blue mussels are not only commercially valuable as seafood, but also important to the environment,” Knights said. They form natural shellfish reefs in the marine and coastal environments, which enhance biodiversity and often protect them from conservation actions. If they are particularly vulnerable to microplastic contamination, there are many potential knock-on effects that need to be noted. “
The study was published in Environmental Research Letters.